June 6, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY — New York City SEIU Local 246’s President Joseph Colangelo has risen in the ranks in his more than three decades as part of the union. We spoke with him to get an insider’s look at both the union and his history in it.
“I started working for the city of New York back in 1981 in the title of Senior Automotive Service Worker,” says Colangelo. “I was promoted to Auto Mechanic in 1984, and in 1991 I pursued a position as Shop Steward. I was elected as Shop Steward in 1992. In 1994 I was elected Union Trustee. I served in that position until 2002. In January 2003 – mid season – I was appointed to Vice President. In 2004 I was elected Vice President. In 2005 I became the President due to the retirement of the then-president. I was elected my first term in 2006, and
have been the union president since that time.”
Since his election, Colangelo has devoted himself to fighting privatization, winning grievances against outsourcing his members work to other agencies, and fighting for civil service reform, in particular taking aim at the one-in- three rule that robs qualified candidates of promotional
opportunities. The moving target of changing City administrations, new rules and new technology requires an eye for detail and a knowledge of how to troubleshoot difficult situations.
The total number of members is now 1350. When he first started, says Colangelo, they had close to 2000 members. “We used to have members that worked in all the landfills. In the 1980’s and prior to the closing of the sanitation landfill in Staten Island we had probably an additional 200 or so members and we had even more back in the ‘80’s. Due to budgets and everything else the numbers started to dwindle down. There was a landfill in the Bronx that closed, there was a landfill in Far Rockaway that closed, one on the Belt Parkway that closed.”
The names of many Local 246 titles in themselves show deep links to New York and automotive history. The union was formed in 1952, and was originally called the Building Services Employees Union. Now, says Colangelo, “We cover 19 different trades titles. Over the years the
titles have changed. Currently we cover Auto Body Worker, Auto Machinist, Auto Mechanic, Auto Mechanic – Diesel, Automotive Service Worker, Carriage Upholsterer, Door Check Repairer/Door Stop Maintainer, Supervisor Door Check Repairer/Supervisor Door Stop Maintainer, Electrician (Automobile), Sign Painter Letterer, Machinist, Machinist Helper, Marine Maintenance Mechanics Levels One and Two, Motor Grader Operator, Tractor Operators, Oil Burner Specialist, Rubber Tire Repairer, Tractor Operator, Senior Auto Service Worker Machinist, Sheet Metal Worker, Supervisor Sheet Metal Worker.”
There have been other changes over the years. One that stands out is the impact of changing technology, and the rise of computers. Says Colangelo, “The whole industry has changed. It used to be that if you were good with your hands you could become a mechanic. That’s gone.
You now have to be versed in all computer software, in diagnostics, in everything along that line. You have six onboard computers in sanitation trucks. Laptops have been passed out to all locations. There is extensive training that has been done, and continues to be done. Almost everything is technology. To become a mechanic requires that you not only have extensive knowledge in the automotive field, the automotive industry and how it operates, but you need the electronic knowledge as well. It goes with the territory now. There’s computers that control the engines, computers that control the transmissions, computers that control the cycling of a sanitation truck. Everything is tied in.”
Local 246 is adapting to the new changes just as its mechanics adapt to new vehicles, with active negotiations on job protection language and new hiring. It also manages welfare funds for both active members and retirees, with trustees who are seeking relief from rising prescription drug costs. Mr. Colangelo also finds the time to be outspoken on issues of union solidarity, slamming management in the recently concluded Verizon strike and informing his members about the threat of adverse U.S. Supreme Court decisions.