Last February, workers from Astoria-based Quality Services for the Autism Community gathered outside Queens Borough Hall to celebrate joining the Civil Service Employees Association, Local 1000.
The agreement by over 400 workers to join a union came after a long, bitter labor dispute with management. On Tuesday, employees from the company gathered inside Queens Borough Hall to celebrate the first contract between QSAC and CSEA.
The agreement provides a 10 percent wage increase over the next three years, and 4 percent retroactive pay dating back to February. According to CSEA officials, the contract also includes “substantial employee rights and benefits.”
“This is a two-year fight and today we are victorious,” said Assemblyman Jose Peralta, who called the contract “historic.” “Today the workers at QSAC will receive a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
City Councilman Hiram Monserrate, the father of an autistic child, added, “I believe that organized workers’ rights are basic civil rights. I’ve always supported you, I’ll always support you. I’ve got your back.”
The two sides had been embroiled in a year-long fight based on the contention by CSEA 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.
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. However, an agreement was reached in December 2003 between the two sides that allowed for a card-check procedure, enabling QSAC employees the chance to decide whether they wanted to be represented by CSEA.
A third party was called in to verify whether a majority of employees signed a petition favoring union representation. One of the stipulations of the agreement was that if the petition failed, the organizing efforts would be called off.
“This is truly a very special holiday season for QSAC workers who have struggled and fought courageously for months,” said CSEA Metropolitan Region President George Boncoraglio. “Perhaps Santa might have found it difficult, but they worked hard to form a union that will represent them and for a contract that will protect them at work and will enable them to continue providing the best in quality care.”
Rosetta Muhammed, interim president of the new QSAC Local 753, quoted a member of the union who said, “it can only get better.”
“This will ensure the dignity and respect we have fought for so long,” she said.
While touting the contract as a major victory for the workers, QSAC employees and its supporters also called the new contract a victory for the clients.
QSAC had been making headlines, not only because of the labor battle, but also because of questions about the quality of care the non-profit organization is offering. An investigation by the state’s Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities concluded earlier this year that two of QSAC’s residential programs and one of its day programs were deficient.
QSAC, which also has locations in Hollis and Whitestone, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.