[ Stanley Hill rose through the ranks of District Council 37. He
became its first black executive director but was forced to resign
when the union was rocked by a corruption scandal involving some of
his closest aides and political allies.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 MOURN STANLEY HILL, 1ST BLACK LEADER OF DC 37  
[https://portside.org/2019-01-30/mourn-stanley-hill-1st-black-leader-dc-37]


 

 Richard Steier 
 January 30, 2019
The Chief-Leader 

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 _ Stanley Hill rose through the ranks of District Council 37. He
became its first black executive director but was forced to resign
when the union was rocked by a corruption scandal involving some of
his closest aides and political allies. _ 

 , 

 

[STANLEY HILL]

STANLEY HILL

Stanley Hill, who rose through the ranks of District Council 37 to
become its first black executive director but was forced to resign
when the union was rocked by a corruption scandal involving some of
his closest aides and political allies, died Jan. 25 at 82.

The cause of death was complications of pneumonia, his son Brett told
the New York Times.

KEY ROLE IN ELECTING DINKINS

Mr. Hill, who went to work 60 years ago for the old city Welfare
Department because no teaching jobs were available and quickly became
a union activist because he was disturbed by conditions in the Harlem
Welfare Center , succeeded Victor Gotbaum as DC 37’s leader in 1987.
Less than three years later, he mobilized the union’s membership to
play a pivotal role in electing David Dinkins as the city’s first
African-American Mayor.

But budget problems in the fall of 1990, Mr. Dinkins’s first year in
office, led to the layoff of close to 2,000 DC 37 members the
following year. It was an omen of more bad developments, among them
the Mayor losing his 1993 re-election bid to Republican challenger
Rudy Giuliani, who in 1995 told Mr. Hill that if he didn’t agree to
a two-year wage freeze at the start of a new contract, he would be
forced to lay off as many as 30,000 members of the union.

Sentiment was divided within DC 37 about how seriously to take the
threat, with some local presidents saying that firing even 10,000
members would seriously hurt city services and make it more difficult
for Mr. Giuliani to win a second term.

But Mr. Hill had to reckon with a different calculus: Mr. Dinkins, who
gained office with his union’s help and had a strong affinity for
its racially-mixed rank and file, had nonetheless laid off a painfully
high number of its members. What was to stop Mr. Giuliani, who had
been elected despite the union’s strong opposition and made clear
his strongest allegiance was to cops and firefighters, from getting
rid of several times as many DC 37 members if it was the only way for
him to gain significant budgetary relief?

DIDN’T WAIT ON UFT VOTE

By the time Mr. Hill decided he couldn’t afford to play chicken with
the Mayor, the United Federation of Teachers had agreed to a five-year
contract in mid-fall that began with a two-year wage freeze but
offered raises in its final three years totaling 10.75 percent. Rather
than wait to see whether UFT members would give final approval to the
terms negotiated by their then-president, Sandra Feldman, Mr. Hill
opted to negotiate a similar deal as part of a coalition of
civilian-employee unions shortly before Thanksgiving.

The wisdom of making the agreement at that point came into question
when more than 56 percent of the UFT’s rank and file rejected the
city’s terms in early December. Suddenly Mr. Hill was in a position
to trying to sell a deal that began with a two-year pay freeze to a
membership whose largest contingents were among the city’s
lowest-paid workers and therefore facing the biggest struggles if
their salaries failed to keep pace with the cost of living.

The terms he and other members of the union coalition agreed to
presented another big obstacle. The selling point for living with the
wage freeze was a no-layoff close that would be in effect for the
first three years of the contract, but it did not apply to Hospital
Workers Local 420, because the Mayor said such a clause would hinder
his efforts to sell off several facilities that were operated by the
Health and Hospitals Corporation.

This kind of privatizing had long been anathema to Mr. Hill, as well
as to other top DC 37 officials. In the late 1970s, as an assistant
director of what was then the union’s largest local,
Clerical-Administrative Employees Local 1549, he vociferously opposed
the contracting-out of work he believed should be performed by its
members.

ANTAGONIZED ‘420’ LEADER

Besides yielding on that principle, his deal antagonized Local 420’s
president, James Butler, who was long known for organizing mass
demonstrations against policies previous Mayors tried to implement
that he believed were harmful to his members. He had a visceral
dislike of Mr. Giuliani, one that intensified when the Mayor argued
that the hospital system was designed to offer patient services, not
act as a jobs program, which Mr. Butler regarded as a thinly-veiled
slap at his largely minority membership.

Had the UFT deal been ratified, DC 37’s rank and file would likely
have approved the terms from the belief that nothing better could be
gained if the union went to arbitration. But with no wage pattern in
place once UFT members rejected the terms, sentiment remained strong
against the deal in many DC 37 locals as voting began at the end of
`1995.

Each union conducted its own balloting, and some held mail ballots
while others did the voting at membership meetings. Mr. Hill’s hopes
of getting the terms ratified took another hit when one of his key
allies, Charles Hughes of Local 372, opted for a union-meeting
ratification process. While the vote by those attending was nearly
unanimous, only about 350 of them showed up from a membership of
roughly 24,000.

In contrast, other major DC 37 locals whose memberships were roughly
half the size of Local 372’s, such as Mr. Butler’s and Social
Service Employees Local 371—which Mr. Hill had served as president
in the early 1970s—produced a combined vote of 9,286 to 505 against
the deal. Even with smaller locals aligned with Mr. Hill said to have
voted to ratify it, by mid-January 1996, it looked like all that stood
between Mr. Hill and a ringing rejection of his deal was Local 1549.

A LONG, UNLIKELY COUNT

When the counting of that local’s ballots was delayed until Feb. 8,
it spurred suspicions of chicanery. When it was announced on that date
by Mr. Hill that the contract had been ratified by slightly more than
5,000 votes among the full union membership, the whispers turned to
screams. The New York Times reported that Local 1549 President Albert
Diop said his members voted in favor of the deal by a count of 10,002
to 2,267.

Given that he represented one of the lowest-paid groups of employees
within DC 37, opponents of the pact scoffed at the idea that there
could have been such a landslide in favor of a two-year wage freeze at
its outset.

Mr. Butler was succinct, saying, “They stole the vote.” Local 371
President Charles Ensley wrote to the head of DC 37’s national
union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
Gerald McEntee, urging an investigation.

Mr. McEntee declined to order a probe; he would later say that Mr.
Ensley had not offered specific evidence of vote-rigging that
warranted a look by the national union. Critics within DC 37 pointed
out that Mr. Hill and Mr. Diop were AFSCME vice presidents, giving
them some leverage with Mr. McEntee, since the national union’s vice
presidents chose its president.

OTHER TROUBLE WITHIN UNION

The contract stood, and other municipal unions grudgingly negotiated
similar terms, with many of them subsequently joining DC 37 in
breaking from their long practice of supporting Democratic candidates
and endorsing Mr. Giuliani’s re-election in 1997. But while the
grumbling about the voting process gradually subsided, there were
other signs of trouble emerging within DC 37 as a group of union
reformers coalesced and highlighted questionable practices within a
number of locals.

In Motor Vehicle Operators Local 983, there were complaints about an
unfair election process during the same year, 1995, that the contract
was reached. One dissident group in late 1997 also questioned how the
local wound up buying holiday turkeys for members at $44 each when
individual members could have bought the same birds for $25 in a
supermarket. And there was a darker shadow looming over that local.

its longtime president, Frank Morelli, who was known to associate with
organized-crime figures,was reportedly behind the beating in the early
1990s of Vincent Parisi, the president of Local 376, on a loading dock
outside DC 37’s headquarters. In what was believed to be
retaliation, a couple of years later he was subjected to a more-severe
gang assault in the office he occupied—which adjoined Mr.
Hill’s—in his capacity as president of DC 37. He died about six
months after the attack.

Local 372 had become DC 37’s largest local—a product of the
eventual UFT contract that gained ratification after Mr. Giuliani
agreed to relieve Teachers of cafeteria duty, which led to the hiring
of a couple of thousand cafeteria workers to handle that chore, all of
them represented by Mr. Hughes. The additional dues revenue didn’t
do much to stem the shortfall in the local’s treasury, however, and
by early 1998 it was discovered that the 30-year president had plunged
the local $10 million into debt.

COULDN’T HONOR ‘AUTONOMY’

Mr. Hill, who when asked about allegations of impropriety against
leaders of the union’s 56 locals would typically respond that their
autonomy limited his power to intervene, in this instance decided the
problem was serious enough that he notified AFSCME, which removed Mr.
Hughes from office and placed Local 372 under an administratorship.

In May, Mayor Giuliani took advantage of the fact that the contract
Mr. Hill had agreed to exempted Local 420 from the no-layoff
guarantee, with 585 members of the local who couldn’t be placed in
other city positions losing their jobs.

Less than a month later, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
issued subpoenas for numerous DC 37 locals, including the ones run by
Mr. Hughes and Mr. Diop, to turn over their records to a grand jury
that was conducting a criminal probe. Later in June, more bad news
piled up: one local president, Bob Crilly of Local 2627, told this
newspaper about an operation to supply holiday turkeys to all the
locals at exorbitant charges, with Local 376 President Joseph DeCanio,
who had succeeded Mr. Parisi, receiving “commissions” from the
supplier.

On the last day of the month, reformer Mark Rosenthal was elected
president of Local 983, easily defeating Robert Taylor, a former
chauffeur for Mr. Morelli who had succeeded him following his death.

EXPOSED CORRUPTION WITHIN

Once in office, Mr. Rosenthal gained access to records that indicated
the local had been engaged in a variety of dubious schemes featuring
exorbitant payments for holiday parties. That included one held at
Leonard’s of Great Neck for which a payment of more than $80,000 had
been made not to the caterer but to an East Northport travel agency.
He also questioned a half-million-dollar payment to a veteran union
lawyer made in advance of him preparing an arbitration case seeking
significant raises for one group of the local’s members. Several
other labor lawyers said it was unusual for the entire sum to have
been covered before the case was actually presented.

And Mr. Rosenthal’s presence in DC 37’s Barclay St. headquarters
gave him access to Mr. DeCanio, whom he befriended while cautioning
him that he should cooperate with the Manhattan DA’s probe or risk
becoming the fall guy for crimes in which other, more-prominent union
officials were involved.

He ultimately succeeded in persuading the Local 376 president to talk
to investigators, and in November the DA’s Office began issuing
indictments involving not only large-scale corruption but the rigging
of the DC 37 contract vote nearly three years earlier. Front-page
coverage in the New York Times made it a national story, and by the
end of the month Mr. McEntee met with Mr. Hill to urge him to step
down. The DC 37 leader said he had been unaware of the corruption and
insisted he could navigate the union through the mess, but Mr. McEntee
was getting heat from AFSCME local presidents around the country about
the bad publicity, particularly after the Wall Street Journal
published an editorial calling for legislation restricting unions’
ability to spend money for political activities without their
members’ consent.

FORCED FROM JOB

Two days after their Nov. 25 meeting, Mr. Hill told Mr. McEntee that
he would not resign because he didn’t believe any of his actions
violated the AFSCME constitution, leading the AFSCME president to
announce the following day that he was being placed on unpaid leave
and an outside administrator, Lee Saunders—who had been running
Local 372 since February—would take charge of DC 37.

Mr. Hill did not return to his job, announcing his retirement early in
1999, and the administratorship remained in effect until February
2002, which allowed DC 37’s finances to be stabilized after its
assets were discovered to have dwindled from more than $22 million to
$4 million. Much of the decline spurred from Mr. Hughes’s
overspending and embezzlement at Local 372 and somewhat lesser
financial misconduct by Mr. Diop at Local 1549.

Unlike them and more than two dozen other union officials, Mr. Hill
was never charged by the DA’s Office, and there were no indications
that he engaged in any of the dishonest conduct. But the criminal
trial of Mr. Diop and longtime DC 37 Associate Director Martin Lubin
for their roles in fixing the contract vote had the effect of
portraying Mr. Hill as a figurehead who was propped up by powerful
local presidents because he was either oblivious to their corruption
or disinclined to take steps to root it out.

Mark Shaplo, a childhood friend of his who pleaded guilty to
embezzlement and became a cooperating witness to gain leniency in
sentencing, testified that Mr. Hill was popular with the union’s
rank and file and “took care of the politics” in dealing with
government officials on issues of concern to DC 37, but was not really
involved in its day-to-day operations.

THE BIG BALLOT SWITCH

He and Gary Tenenbaum, the president of a local representing Parks
Department Recreation Directors and city Chaplains, told jurors in
Manhattan Criminal Court that while they and other union officials
pressured local presidents to inflate their vote totals in favor of
the contract to keep Mr. Hill from being embarrassed by a rejection of
the deal that could also sour his relationship with Mr. Giuliani, he
was out of the loop for the actual conspiracy, whose most-vivid detail
involved a Saturday afternoon early in 1996 when the Local 1549
ballots were opened and those that were cast against the contract were
discarded and replaced by 5,000 ballots marked “yes” that Mr. Diop
had ordered printed and held in reserve.

Mr. Shaplo testified that he, Mr. Lubin and Mr. Diop hatched the
vote-rigging plan, and when he suggested they confide in Mr. Hill,
“Mr. Diop said to me that Stanley’s got a big mouth and I don’t
think we can trust him.”

Mr. Diop and Mr. Lubin were both convicted in the vote-rigging scheme.
One irony regarding the need for it was that after alienating Mr.
Butler by excluding Local 420 from the no-layoff protection and
creating a 4,000-vote bloc against the contract that made the fix
necessary, Mr. Hill played a key role in organizing opposition to the
selling-off of HHC member hospitals that prompted the City Council to
vote down Mr. Giuliani’s privatization plans for Coney Island
Hospital.

But while the trial didn’t definitively resolve the mystery of why
the vote-rigging scheme took root, testimony hinted that it was less
about helping Mr. Hill save face with the Mayor and avoid massive
layoffs than it was about officials including Mr. Diop and Mr. DeCanio
being concerned that Mr. Giuliani—a former Federal
prosecutor—might respond to a rejection by focusing on improper
financial practices in which they had been engaged.

‘HURT RUDY, HE HURTS STANLEY’

Mr. Butler at the time offered a dissenting opinion. He said in an
interview that because the Mayor’s budget depended on large savings
from a two-year wage freeze being imposed on the entire municipal
workforce, rejection of the terms by DC 37 “would have brought him
to his knees” and as payback he would have “probably hurt Stanley,
hurt him very badly.”

In retirement, Mr. Hill did not divorce himself completely from the
union in which he played an integral part for four decades, the final
12 years as its leader.

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido noted in a statement that Mr.
Hill—who is survived by his wife Ruby, sons Brett and Stanley Jr.,
and four grandsons—became a proponent of solar renewable energy
because “he believed it was good for the environment and would
provide an economic boost to communities in need.”

He added, “In recent years, it was a pleasure to see Stanley again
at union events, flashing his great smile and spending time with
members. He loved them, and they loved him.”

That was true even among union veterans who had suffered through the
corruption scandal, with some saying that he had been betrayed by
subordinates whom he trusted too much. Even as DC 37 was teetering
under the weight of then-Manhattan DA Robert M. Morgenthau’s
investigation, many rank-and-file members, while harshly critical of
Mr. Diop in particular as someone they never saw and whom they said
failed to provide the services for which he was elected, would speak
warmly of Mr. Hill for working hard on their behalf and getting out
into the field to encourage them while soliciting their input.

‘BECAME A MENTOR’

Anthony Wells, the president of Local 371, said that after gaining
that job nearly a decade ago, he was offered guidance by Mr. Hill,
whose activism in the local culminating with his two years as its
president starting in 1970 made him particularly familiar with its
issues and history.

“He became a mentor,” he said in a Jan. 29 phone interview. “It
was quite helpful; we honored him at one of our dinners a few years
ago.” Mr. Hill received a standing ovation when his award was
presented during that event at Russo’s on the Bay in Queens.

Mr. Wells declined to speak at length about the corruption scandal
that became the downfall of the former executive director, noting that
he was not Local 371’s president at the time and was not privy to
the circumstances that led the man who was, Mr. Ensley, to be so
critical of Mr. Hill.

His one comment about that period was, “I think he was too trusting,
and he focused on external stuff, not internal stuff.”

Asked what he thought Mr. Hill’s legacy would be within DC 37, Mr.
Wells replied, “Those who knew him, I think he’s going to be
remembered as a decent, gentle giant who people felt they could talk
to. He was approachable and he was responsive.”

And, he added, the former DC 37 leader provided an example even after
the events that damaged the union’s reputation and fiscal solvency
led to his forced exit.

“Even when you go through a dark period, you retain your dignity,”
Mr. Wells said.

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