August 22, 2019

Downstate members support Rising Ground workers facing contract fight

Author: Kara Smith
Caption: Biondi Labor Union of Essential Staff leaders (l-r) Elizabeth Negron and James Faulkner and their colleague Dionis Soler-Claudio (formerly of the Biondi staff and now a member of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers) were in the house for NYSUT's recent leadership conference in Tarrytown, where more than 100 activists pledged to support the union in their current contract fight. Photo provided.

When you’re in the middle of a tough contract fight, nothing feels better than knowing your union brothers and sisters have your back.

Elizabeth Negron and James Faulkner, members of the Biondi Labor Union of Essential Staff experienced that this summer when more than 100 leaders and activists at the Tarrytown Regional Office’s summer leadership conference pledged to lend a helping hand to the local.

“We asked attendees to send us their email address, names and contact information if they were willing to help out with activities like rallies, letter writing or phone calling,” said Daniel Esakoff, who along with Julie Berman, serves as the local’s NYSUT labor relations specialist.

Biondi Labor Union of Essential Staff

Since organizing in 2013, the 145-member union has been unable to reach a collective bargaining agreement with its employer, the Frank and Carol Biondi Education Center, a taxpayer-funded 853 private school for emotionally challenged students, with locations in Westchester County and the Bronx. The facility, also known as the Biondi School, is part of Rising Ground a large social service agency, which changed its name from Leake and Watts in 2018.

Representing titles including teachers, clinicians, teaching assistants and teacher aides, most BLUES members haven’t received pay raises in close to a decade — despite seven years of tuition increases. Additionally, due to staffing shortages — exacerbated by poor working conditions and low pay — student violence has increased; at the middle/high school, a teacher was nearly killed by a group of students in 2016.

Despite the danger, union calls to install metal detectors, equip staff with alarm bracelets and hire additional monitors have been deemed “too expensive.” School management is aggressively anti-union. To date, it has spent more than $1.5 million in legal fees to avoid reaching a collective bargaining agreement.

How you can help

Interested in lending your support to BLUES members? Send your name, email address and phone number to and include “I’m in!” in the subject line.

To learn more about the local union, contact Daniel Esakoff or Julie Berman at NYSUT’s Tarrytown regional office, 914-592-4411.