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WNYLaborToday.com Spotlight On ARCEU/NYSUT Local 4265 & Its 285 Western New York Members - Providing An Array Of Quality Services For Those With Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Across Niagara County

Union Leadership Is Proud Of The Job Its Members Do For Opportunities Unlimited Of Niagara And For Cultivating & Growing A Positive Labor-Management Relationship With Niagara County’s Largest Human Service Association

Published Monday, November 28, 2011 5:00 pm
by Tom Campbell/Editor-Publisher
WNYLaborToday.com Spotlight On ARCEU/NYSUT Local 4265 & Its 285 Western New York Members - Providing An Array Of Quality Services For Those With Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Across Niagara County

(NIAGARA FALLS) - “Because we’re all in this together,” answered ARCEU (Association For Retarded Citizens Employees Union)/NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) Local 4265 President Nick Zawacki when asked by WNYLaborToday.com why his Union and Management at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara – Niagara County’s largest Human Service Association – have such a good working relationship.

“My goal has always been to work together ‘with’ management while maintaining fair raises and quality benefits for our Local’s two-hundred-and-eighty-five Members,” Zawacki (pictured above/WNYLaborToday.com Photo) told Your Regional, On-Line Labor Newspaper.  “In the past, there’d been a lot of turmoil.  But to put it nicely, we’ve learned from past observations.  We’ve really turned things around over the last three years and there’s been a renewed commitment on both sides to make this relationship work.  We’ve done it by communicating effectively and we’ve also ‘agreed to disagree’ without any animosity.”

The relationship between ARCEU/NYSUT Local 4265 and Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara has improved to the point where a Labor-Management Employee Picnic is annually held and two, jointly-sponsored $500 scholarships are yearly awarded to Union-Represented Employees who are either looking to further their education or to a child of an Employee heading off to college or a university.  In addition, Labor and Management jointly paid for and handed out turkeys for each Union Employee during the Thanksgiving Holiday, and the two sides are working together to plant a Japanese Maple Tree in the Spring on a nature trail at one of Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara’s Niagara County facilities to honor those Company Employees who’ve passed since the Union was founded back in 1980.

In fact, their relationship has grown to be so good that Zawacki said several Management Representatives were in attendance at Local 4265’s installation dinner for its recently-elected slate of Union Officers, Site Representatives and Union Representatives.

Headquartered in Niagara Falls, Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara is the Niagara County Chapter of NYSARC, Inc. (formerly known as the New York State Association for Retarded Children).  The not-for-profit operates several facilities and offices across the County, including Lockport, North Tonawanda, Ransomville, Sanborn and Wheatfield.  It’s said to be the largest non-profit organization in Niagara County and for the past 50 years has provided programs and services to those with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, including day programming, employment and training, residential services, service coordination, clinical services, youth and adult recreation and supportive services to more than 800 families on an annual basis.

Executive Director Connie Brown tells WNYLaborToday.com that Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara and Local 4265 have “a good working relationship.”

“We’re a not-for-profit and we’re run differently than a private company, but fortunately, we agree more than we disagree because we have that kind of relationship and because we both know what the mission of Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara is (to serve its clients).  We both know our roles and our relationship is what I would say is ‘healthy,’” Brown said.

ARCEU represented a total of just 80 Members when the Union was first formed back in 1980 and has now more than tripled its Membership over the years.  It also survived two strikes at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara over the years – one in the early 80s and a 72-day strike back in 1992. 

Today, ARCEU/NYSUT Local 4265 represents 285 Members employed by Opportunities Unlimited who work in a variety of positions ranging from Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) to Mechanics.  Union Members are also employed as Med Liaisons, Building Specialists, Employment Specialists, Dietary Aides, Leisure and Recreation Trainers and as Physical Therapy Aides. 

Earlier this year, Union Membership ratified a new, three-year agreement that included wage increases of 2.5% in the first year of the contract, followed by 2% increases in Years Two and Three.  The existing level of Health Coverage was also maintained, Zawacki said, and an additional holiday for Union Members was also bargained, as was additional time for educational leave and reimbursements for tools.

Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara Executive Director Brown called the contract negotiations and subsequent agreement “fair and equitable,” due to the “good working relationship” between the Union and Management.  “We’re New York State funded and (the Union) understands that.  If we had more, they know I would look to give them more,” she added. 

Zawacki, meanwhile, said: “I knew that back in the Summer of 2008 (when Zawacki was elected to his first three-year term as Union President after serving as Vice President for the previous seven years) that we needed to get back on track (with Management) for the betterment of our entire Union.  We’ve gotten to the point where several members of management were invited to attend our Union’s installation dinner and they were all there.  That’s never happened before.”

The Union and Management have worked so well that Brown admitted that it indeed “was a first” when Management Representatives attended Local 4265’s Installation Dinner.  She adds that both she and Zawacki have each other’s cell phone numbers and that they offer each other the common courtesy of “giving each other a head’s up so there’s no surprises” when an issue arises so it can be quickly addressed and doesn’t become a problem in the long run.   “That’s the biggest thing with Nick, who serves his Members well… we have the same philosophy,” Brown said.

In addition to Zawacki, the following Local 4265 Union Officers who were installed on October 27th were: Joan Willard, Vice President; Nellie Joseph-Miller, Treasurer; Donna Raffel, Secretary; and Union Representatives Robert Gerst, Bernadette Menz, Travis Wilkinson, Nate Smith, Edith Janese, Diane Cevaer and Althea Nalls.

The Local 4265 Union Members who work with those served by Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara Falls are highly-trained and continue to upgrade their skills over the course of time. 

“Developmentally-disabled individuals are served by our Membership, including a program aimed at parenting, where our clients learn and are provided with the support to raise their own children.  Our training involves everything from First Aid to CPR to Med Certification Classes to a variety of Intervention Techniques where you’re taught how to react to certain behaviors before taking any physical action.  They are strategies to best handle any situation.  That’s the goal.  Our Members also receive Quality Assurance Training so they can recognize alleged abuse.  After all, we are here to protect and serve our clients,” Zawacki said.

Zawacki, who is a 20-year Union Member with the Local and who is employed as a Residential Program Specialist at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, says he’s “proud” of where his Union and its Membership currently stand with Management and “how far we’ve come.” 

“Like our Union’s motto says, ‘People, Making A Difference.’  We’re growing leadership, establishing accountability and restoring integrity.  If we wind up fighting with our employer, nothing gets accomplished.  I’ve been entrusted with this Union’s leadership to make things better and I take it seriously.  I am humbled by it,” he said.

ARCEU Local 4265 and its Niagara County Membership, meanwhile, are also involved in a number of local community actions, including with the United Way of Greater Niagara and Make A Difference Day.  The Union is also an active participant with the Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation and the Niagara-Orleans AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, which held its monthly November meeting at Local 4265’s Buffalo Avenue Union Hall in Niagara Falls.

Getting back to that Labor-Management relationship, Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara’s Executive Director Brown said she has also attended the Niagara-Orleans Labor Council’s annual awards dinner with Zawacki, who in turn has attended a couple of board of directors’ retreats the non-profit has put on over the years.  In addition, Brown and Zawacki agreed to “co-emcee” Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara’s annual Arts & Entertainment Night that was held at Niagara Falls High School where the non-profit’s clients put on a show for family and friends.

On another front, Zawacki said he is in discussions with Local 4265’s NYSUT Field Representative in regards to changing the name of the Union to a more politically-correct description.  While the word “retarded” was an acceptable, descriptive word for mental retardation back in the 80s, Zawacki told WNYLaborToday.com a name change to “Opportunities Unlimited Employees Union” would work better to erase any “negative stigmas” that may still exist.

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