For his past 28 years with 1199SEIU, Bruce Richard has had many titles—Organizer, Vice President and, since 2001, Executive Vice President—as he has directed other union officers and staff in representing tens of thousands of our members.
Now you can add another title—Author. Bruce’s new book, “The Other New York: A Story About Human Transformation)”, contains a Foreword by Harry Belafonte, and can be ordered from Amazon.com for $11.99 in paperback.
But back in 1983, he was working as a parking meter collector. Bruce says he “was given an assignment by my co-workers at that time to write this book. I’m glad I didn’t do it back then. Now—especially with nearly 30 years at 1199, I’ve got a better understanding and perspective of that period.” He says that in the 60s and 70s, parking meter collection was a steady job, and paid $16 an hour which was a good wage back then. And all the jobs were held by white workers.
Bruce tells the story: “Then the city started contracting out the jobs to various security agencies—some run by organized crime--and wages went down to $5 an hour, and the workforce became nearly all-Black
“The city administration was rampant with corruptions. The Department of Transportation chief went to jail, the Queens borough president committed suicide, and so on.
“We low-paid parking meter collectors had no union and we had no respect for each other.We became self-destructive and nobody from outside was willing to help us. Things—even personal relations—went from bad to worse. It was depression: we’d get off work at 4 pm but have to wait around until 9 or 10 at night to get paid. Even on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
“A few of us went to the Department of Transportation to complain. They sent us to the National Labor Relations Board, which sent us to District 65 [a local union which eventually folded into the United Auto Workers]. District 65 said they had no jurisdiction and sent us to the International Longshoremen’s Association, which was mobbed up. The ILA signed us up and because, they had a cozy relationship with the city transportation department, we got a contract right away. But it was a “sweetheart” contract that the Gambino Family was famous for. Eventually, the union president was killed in a feud with the Genovese Family.”
The book tells this story but it also tells,”how we workers came to learn to see each other as our first line of defense,” Bruce says.
“It’s really a big problem in our country that workers aren’t encouraged to think this way, to see that we need each other, we need to rely on each other. When we parking meter collectors started to do this, we began to organize our own work better. We even started looking better because we were gaining self-respect.
“Workers need to know that building group strength is not easy, things may not start off well, but we can’t give up on one another, things will change for the better if we stick together. It’s one of the most important things I’ve learned in 1199—countering the indoctrination of individualism that infests our culture and does us great damage.
“We in 1199 need to build stronger chapters, to take on the challenge of working better together and build our collective strength. We’re the only ones who can do that; nobody’s going to do it for us.”