April 7, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY CWA Local 1182’s leaders introduced themselves to the city’s newest traffic enforcement agents April 5, five days after the group of 113 began their nine-week training course.
Local 1182 President Syed Rahim told them the union would “represent you to the fullest extent of our mandate” and “make sure your working environment is good.” He was joined by Executive Vice-President Sokunbi Olufemi, Secretary & Treasurer Mohammad Shahjahan, Traffic Vice-President Tammy Meadows, Traffic Chief Delegate Michael Jackson, and At-Large Delegate Azizur Rhaman.
Speaking in a classroom at the city’s Queens Plaza training center—a milk crate filled with No Standing and alternate-side-of-the street parking signs at the front, under the whiteboard—Rahim touted the gains won in the union’s new contract, including step-pay scales, an annuity, and a significantly higher maximum salary. The trainees, green hand-lettered photo IDs hanging from their necks, applauded when he said the union wants to upgrade “everyone to Level II as soon as possible.”
“You came at the right time,” Olufemi said, noting that he’d spent 15 years as a Level II agent stuck at the old salary cap.
Meadows and Jackson both cautioned the trainees to follow discipline, while promising that the union would defend them. Meadows told them not to bring their private business onto the job, respect their coworkers, and not get into fights with their supervisors. If they tell you to do something you object to, she said, “do it—and grieve it.”
“We work for the Police Department 24-7,” Jackson said. “This is like the military.” That means, he explained, that they are monitoring your lifestyle off the job, and you can receive a CD, a “command discipline,” for offenses as small as talking on a cellphone close to headquarters or not having a neat enough haircut. While that might seem petty, he went on, it helps build the self-discipline needed to deal with the public. People who just got a $115 summons are going to be angry, and if “somebody cusses you out, they’re not talking to you, they’re talking to the uniform.”
Handing out the forms for joining the union, he and Rahim also urged the trainees to sign the papers authorizing part of their dues to go to the union’s political action fund. Like police officers, agents can get a CD for having a dirty uniform, but economically, the city still bargains with them as civilian employees, Rahim said, and to change that, “we need to hire a lobbyist.”
“It’s voluntary, but important,” Jackson said. “The number-one thing on our table right now is we’re fighting for better benefits.”
“Since my infancy, police is the work I really want to do,” said Level I trainee Kwame Agyei, 33, of Queens. “As a good citizen, I always take delight in protecting people.” Agyei, who immigrated here from Ghana eight years ago and is married with one child and another on the way, worked at the Elmhurst Dairy plant before taking the exam to be a traffic agent. “I’m so glad I’ve been enlisted into the academy,” he said. “It’s my desire that I keep it up until my graduation.”