A bitter labor dispute between Astoria’s Quality Services for the Autism Community and a union organization, which sparked an investigation by the State Attorney General’s Office, has been settled.
The two sides had been embroiled in a year-long fight based on the contention by the Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000 that QSAC was unfairly blocking its employees from deciding whether to organize a union. The dispute included accusations that management at QSAC had resorted to harassment, intimidation and surveillance in its efforts to foil any worker organizational efforts.
The agreement between the two sides, which was reached in late December, but announced on Tuesday, will allow for a card-check procedure that will enable QSAC employees to decide whether they want to be represented by CSEA. With this procedure, a third party will be called in to verify whether a majority of employees signed a petition in favor of union representation.
If a majority of employees sign the petition, QSAC management will have to recognize the union as the bargaining representative for eligible employees. However, if the petition fails, then organizing efforts will be called off.
According to Paul Frank, a union organizer for CSEA Local 1000, “the process is to be completed by the beginning of March, as per our agreement.” The agreement means that organizational efforts will commence immediately.
“We’re looking forward to a mutually cooperative relationship with QSAC,” Frank said.
George Boncoraglio, CSEA Metropolitan Region president, also expressed satisfaction with the accord.
“With this agreement, we are confident that QSAC and CSEA have initiated a relationship of cooperation and mutual respect,” he said.
The long-standing rift between QSAC and CSEA Local 1000 had made an agreement seem implausible last April, when the union organization staged a protest outside Shea Stadium on the day that the Mets celebrated Autism Day in conjunction with QSAC’s 25th anniversary. But Frank noted that things began to change for the better in November, when both sides seemed to be moving closer toward an acceptable compromise.
In fact, when the Queens Chronicle spoke to representatives from QSAC and CSEA, their attitudes toward each other had been noticeably tempered. Gone were the harsh words, replaced by comments that reflected a cautious optimism that an agreement could be on the horizon.
It was last month that QSAC had reached a settlement with State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to pay 80 current and 67 former employees overtime hours accumulated between 1998 and 2003. Gary Maffei, executive director of QSAC, said that the failure to pay for overtime hours was unintentional, and that it “involved differing definitions of the title ‘residential employees’ in a New York State Department of Labor regulation—which specified overtime after 44 hours (a week) for certain residential employees.”
The dispute between QSAC and CSEA drew the mediation of local elected officials, who sought to bring the two sides together in an effort to hammer out a compromise. Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) brought representatives from QSAC and CSEA into his office for a series of meetings that began in November.
When news of the agreement broke on Tuesday, it immediately drew praise from the City Council.
“I am pleased that the parties were able to negotiate an agreement that will serve QSAC’s employees, as well as its consumers,” Gianaris said. “I hope all the parties can now work together to provide the best possible assistance to those served by QSAC.”
City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), who is the father of an autistic son, had been advocating for the rights of QSAC employees to decide whether they wanted to form a union.
“From the beginning, I have supported the need to ensure workers’ rights as an avenue to high-quality care,” he said. “This agreement is a win-win situation for clients, employees and QSAC, and is the first step toward protecting and improving clients’ quality of care.”
Monserrate added that the agreement was a way of “ensuring the rights of hard-working employees and QSAC’s future as a high-quality service provider.”
QSAC executives had disputed the harassment and intimidation claims by union organizers, and turned the tables on the group’s accusations. Management claimed that CSEA was only after union membership dues, and that it was union organizers who were actually practicing intimidation and harassment of QSAC employees.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Maffei seemed resigned to allowing QSAC employees to proceed with its union organizational process.
“The agreement will enable QSAC’s highly dedicated and quality team of professionals to decide how they would like to proceed with regard to joining a union,” he said.