October 14, 2015
By Steven Wishnia
Keith Mayo of Teamsters Local 237 describes himself as a Long Island family man. Married for 31 years, he has four children and six grandchildren, and is “team dad” for a youth football team in Brentwood, where he lives. The perseverance and longevity that mark a good family man also show in his union work. A stockroom supervisor at Bellevue Hospital, he’s been working for the New York City hospital system for 23 years, and been active in Local 237 for almost all of that time.
He became a shop steward in 1993 and a grievance representative in 1995, a job he’d do for the next 19 years. In 2014, he was named the union’s citywide liaison to the Health and Hospitals Corporation, where 11,000 of its members work.
“He is critical in an important role of maintaining a union support system for members at Bellevue,” says Donald Arnold, head of Local 237’s Skilled Trades, Health, and Safety Department.
As liaison, he helps business agents work with HHC on matters such as work rules, grievances, health and safety concerns—such as asbestos and dealing with inmates in Bellevue’s prison ward—and privatization. A lot of HHC’s new vendors, he says, “have never worked with a union before.”
The biggest struggle is coping with the results of years of cuts to the city’s hospital budget. The stockroom he runs occasionally runs out of basic supplies such as soap, hand towels, and toilet paper. Because of attrition, there might now be four people working in a storeroom that was once staffed by ten. “They’re looking to do more with less,” Mayo says. “Less employees, and they’re expecting more from the existing employees.”
Local 237 also lost jobs when HHC privatized its food preparation, replacing the separate kitchens in each of the city’s 11 public hospitals with a “cook-chill” system. The food is now prepared at a central location, at Kings County Hospital in East Flatbush, frozen, and shipped out to the other hospitals to be reheated and fed to patients. “The model is from the prison system upstate,” says Mayo.
As a member of Local 237’s negotiating committee, Mayo tries to win jobs back for displaced members. The union also won a victory recently when it got a 2010 court decision on sick days enforced. The contract allows workers to take up to 12 sick days a year, Mayo explains, but HHC wanted to penalize workers who had more than three “callouts”—periods of absence due to illness—within six months, when the contract allowed them five. The court went beyond that, he says, ruling that workers can’t be penalized until they’ve used more than the full 12 days.