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News


08/21/2017
 
Posted By: Council 93

More than 350 current and retired members of AFSCME Local 851 in the City of New Bedford, MA are now sharing a total of $1.845 million in back pay that was illegally stripped from their paychecks in 2011 by the city's former mayor.

The money arrived in the workers' paychecks in mid-August, nearly eight years to the day that former Mayor Scott Lang announced he was implementing the furlough despite clear language in the law that required the union's consent. It was a hard-fought win for the union and a shining example of AFSCME Council 93's "never quit" attitude when it comes to fighting for members.

"This win sends a loud and clear message that we will fight for a long as it takes to achieve justice whenever our members our treated unfairly," said Council 93 Executive Director Frank Moroney. "We're pleased that we were finally able to force the city to pay this long-overdue debt to the hard working men and women of Local 851."

The long road to victory started with a November 2011 ruling against the furlough by the Commonwealth's Employment Relations Board (CERB). Lang left office a few months after the CERB ruling but his successor Jon Mitchell continued to fight AFSCME in court, forcing a long legal battle that ended with a showdown in the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

In December of 2016, the state's highest court ruled in AFSCME's favor and the city began identifying the workers who were owed the money and calculating the amounts due. On July 20th, the $1,845,942 in payments were approved by a unanimous vote of the New Bedford City Council. A month later, the funds were finally in the hands of AFSCME members.

Donna Cordeiro, who worked for the city's library for more than 38 years, received a check totaling $5,976. (before taxes) – even though she retired from her position two years ago.
Cordeiro, who said she will use the money to pay down some debt and build her savings account, praised the union for continuing to fight and ensuring that retirees would receive all the money they were shorted during the furlough. "I think AFSCME did a great job, Cordeiro said. "They did all they could for us and they fought until the end. They stuck with us and didn't give up."

Cordeiro added that she felt fortunate to have AFSCME fighting for her, noting that non-union management employees cannot recoup the lost funds. "If you weren't in the union, you lose," she said.

Local 851 member and Steward Shelley Avila-Martins is among the current workers who received the long overdue money in August. A zoo keeper at the city's Buttonwood Park Zoo for the past 16 years, Avila-Martins recalled the difficulty the financial hardship placed on her family when her pay was drastically cut. "It was rough, she said. "I just had a baby and we already had a two-year old. At the time, the loss of money every week hurt me really bad."

Avila-Martins knew her union was fighting for her, but admits she was doubtful at times that city leaders would ever pay their debt. "Honestly, sometimes I figured I'd be dead and gone and my kids or my grandkids would end up having to fight for it," she said with a laugh.

For Avila-Martins, who received $6899. in back pay before taxes, the money will ease the transition to a new apartment for her and her family. "It's nice not to have to struggle to come up with that security deposit and first and last month rent," she said. 'And, I even have a little left over for a rainy day." Avila-Martins said she continues to hear stories from co-workers about the difference the money is making for her union brothers and sisters. "It's been a blessing in a lot of peoples' lives," she said. "People are going through tough times and this is making a real difference."

She added that the victory is just one of many examples of why workers need union protection and has "earned us respect" from members who, from time-to-time, question the value of the union. "As a steward I tell people all the time that the union is only as strong as its members and if we stay together there is nothing that we can't accomplish."

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AFSCME Council 93 represents more than 45,000 state, county and municipal employees in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

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