[ Fighting for you ]

Ithaca municipal workers are NYSUT’s newest members


eanne Grace is a forester for the city of Ithaca. Her duties include supervising all the city’s parks and overseeing park maintenance. She freely admits that interpreting legal documents and other contracts isn’t her strong suit.

City Executive Association president Jeanne Grace (wearing a tan, brown, and red flannel with a grey jacket plus faded grey jeans on the left) and CEA member Jeremy Miller (wearing a navy blue sweater and tan denim pants on the right) are seen posing next to each other smiling for a photograph outdoors in front of the driver's side of a metallic dark blue Ford F-150 truck


City Executive Association president Jeanne Grace and CEA member Jeremy Miller.

That’s why when Grace and fellow members of the City Executive Association — a 20-member association of Ithaca municipal employees — felt they were being outmaneuvered at the bargaining table, they reached out to NYSUT for help.

“We’ve been talking about affiliating for a while, but lately the city has taken more of a hardline approach to negotiations,” said Grace, CEA president, explaining that once the city brought an attorney to negotiation sessions, she worried they were at a disadvantage. “The city attorney would say something, and we weren’t sure if it was correct or not — we needed someone with negotiation experience.”

After a year without a contract, the group turned to the state AFL-CIO for advice. CEA had partnered with other AFL-CIO-affiliated Ithaca unions last fall to advocate for wage increases and other issues as the Ithaca Workers Coalition; they were impressed by the resources available to union members. An AFL-CIO contact suggested reaching out to NYSUT.

“Even though we weren’t affiliated, they went out of their way to help us,” said Jeremy Miller, a city fleet manager and CEA member who helped Grace explore options. “We saw the power of being united and wanted to be part of that,” Miller continued.

CEA members unanimously approved the measure to affiliate with NYSUT.

CEA members are excited for their first bargaining session as an official union. “We’ve had years with no raises, and we want to get our jobs competitive again. We have lots of empty positions because our starting wages are so low,” said Grace.

“The unions were always welcoming to us, but now I feel like we’re more a part of the group. We’re all working toward the same common goal of better treatment.”