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Boro politicians applaud deal between QSAC, union

By Philip Newman

The unionization agreement was announced two weeks ago and last Thursday elected officials and community leaders hailed the move at Borough Hall, with some predicting autistic people might be the biggest benefactors.

Paul Frank, organizing supervisor of the Civil Service Employees Association, said the union hoped to begin negotiations for a labor contract within a couple of weeks.

“We recognize that negotiations can involve difficult issues for all, but it is our hope the union negotiating team will be equally sensitive to QSAC's primary mission,” said Gary Maffei, executive director of QSAC, which is headquartered in Astoria. Maffei did not say when QSAC might be ready for the start of negotiations.

QSAC has facilities in Astoria, Rego Park, Kew Gardens Hills, Rosedale, Floral Park, South Ozone Park, St. Albans, Rosedale, Hollis and Whitestone with about 600 workers, providing services for persons with autism. It is funded mostly by the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

“To ensure negotiations don't in any way interrupt the award-winning quality care we provide to our consumers, every step forward will include consultation with parents who are on our board of directors and who have children in our programs,” Maffei said.

He urged negotiators to “avoid public rhetoric which might cause unnecessary and distracting tensions during negotiations.”

“For negotiations to be most productive, public commentary on how negotiations are proceeding or about differences that may emerge between the parties and assigning blame are best resolved within the negotiating sessions among the negotiators, not in the public arena,” Maffei said.

George Boncoraglio, Metropolitan Region President of Civil Service Employees Association, Local 100, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers Union, said:

“We look forward to a more co-operative relationship with QSAC, as we begin negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement. Many people in the community including elected officials, religious and community organizations, who supported the QSAC workers' campaign, expect both sides to bargain in good faith and will follow the progress of the negotiations.”

City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), the father of an autistic child, was among those who appeared at Queens Borough Hall steps last Thursday to celebrate the union recognition at QSAC.

“I am proud and honored to stand with this group of dedicated employees and community leaders to announce this victory,” Monserrate said.

“Despite the many obstacles in their path, QSAC's hardworking staff is determined to secure a positive working environment for their co-workers and the high quality care QSAC clients deserve.”

Besides Monserrate, state Assemblymen Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria and Jose Peralta (D-Corona), an aide to state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and other elected officials and activists appeared at Borough Hall.

Gianaris had served as a mediator between labor and management in negotiations toward union recognition.

“I am glad to have played a role in securing job protection to all the brothers and sister of QSAC through CSEA,” said Peralta

Negotiators for QSAC employees and QSAC confirmed the agreement two weeks ago after Times-Ledger Newspapers had reported in December that an accord was near.

The drive toward establishing a union at QSACbegan more than a year ago and was led by CSEA Local 1000.

The campaign to gain union recognition was marked by charges and counter-charges, including union contention that pay was low and care substandard. Management protested what it said was a smear campaign by a union whose motives he said were suspect.

Those working to form a union pointed to what they said were problems at QSAC, including short staffing arbitrary firings, favoritism and problems with allocation of food and medical supplies, all denied by Maffei,.

In the course of the negotiations, QSAC settled charges of improper discipline before the National Labor Relations Board. QSAC also settled charges with the state attorney general's office, agreeing to pay back overtime to 80 current and 67 former employees for a period from 1998 to 2003.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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