2006-12-01 / Front Page

Union Packs Lifeguard/Beach Issues Meeting

By Brian Magoolaghan

City Councilmember Helen Foster (left) speaks at the lifeguard/beach issues meeting Tuesday night. Delores Orr (right) made a point of saying that the issue is not isolated to Rockaway.City Councilmember Helen Foster (left) speaks at the lifeguard/beach issues meeting Tuesday night. Delores Orr (right) made a point of saying that the issue is not isolated to Rockaway. The union that represents city lifeguards flexed its muscle Tuesday night by packing the audience at a meeting on beach and lifeguard issues with dozens of its members.

About 50 of DC37's rank and file turned out for the meeting which was organized by City Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr. so members of Community Board 14's ad hoc beach and lifeguard issues committee and the public could speak face-to-face with Councilmember Helen D. Foster, who chairs the council's Parks and Recreation committee.

In October, CB14 endorsed a report that alleges unfairness and impropriety on the part of the union and the Department of Parks and Recreation in the city's lifeguard training and hiring process. A City Council oversight hearing on the matter is tentatively scheduled for early 2007.

While the union members didn't say a word during Tuesday night's hour-long meeting, Dan Mundy Sr., a CB14 member who has played a major role in leveling allegations of misconduct against the union and Department of Parks and Recreation, said their heavy presence was designed "to intimidate the councilpeople.

"It goes back to the old union tactics," he said.

DC37 boasts on its website that it's "the city's largest municipal public employee union" with 121,000 members and says it's "a mighty and powerful force to be reckoned with." Politicians are conscious of the fact that one of the places the union can wield its power is in the voting booth.

The union gathered members at the lifeguard shack on Beach 106 Street before the meeting and returned there afterwards. That wasn't lost on Addabbo, who said he was planning to speak with DC37 leadership to find out "their reason for having the room packed.

"If they were there for intimidation it didn't work, but I hope they weren't there for intimidation," said Addabbo. "I spoke with councilwoman Foster today, and she wasn't intimidated by that."

Leonard Shrier, an attorney for DC37 who has attended several meetings on this subject, said union members came out to talk about their experiences, which he said "doesn't match up with what the Mundy's have said," referring also to Dan Mundy Jr., who has also played a major role as a member of the ad hoc committee.

For most of the meeting, Foster sat still and expressionless as she listened to the ad-hoc committee's concerns. She addressed the audience at the very end of the meeting, after Democratic District Leader Lew Simon launched into a diatribe (see story page 19) in which he accused Addabbo of ignoring the issue and demanded the oversight hearings take place in Rockaway.

"I am here to listen, as I said I would [be]," said Foster, who took issue with some of Simon's comments. She echoed Addabbo's assertion at previous meetings that the proper venue for the oversight hearing is City Hall, which she called "the seat of government in New York City." She encouraged anyone who did not get a chance to speak at the meeting to contact her district office by calling (718) 588-7500 or faxing correspondence to (718) 588-7790. "This is not the end, this is ongoing," she assured them.

Union member Anri Xhelilaj, approached Foster after the meeting and told her of his positive experience becoming a lifeguard. "We were treated with respect and we have no complaints," he later said he told her.

Foster, who has been following the issue with the help of Addabbo, told The Wave she heard what she expected to hear at the meeting. The oversight hearing would take place at City Hall, she said, but when remains unclear. "We're not there yet," she said.

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