Anthony Wells’ brief detour to Kansas made him appreciate New York. After high school, Wells won a football scholarship to a small college in Baldwin City, where he was one of fewer than 100 Black students. “The town was so small, it had only a blinking traffic light,” he recalls. “I saw a plane land over the wheat fields. It was a great culture shock.” Wells returned home, enrolled at Baruch College, and started doing casework at a juvenile center where he learned how unions improve working conditions. In 1988, he began organizing for Local 371.
Now the president of SSEU Local 371 and a vice president of District Council 37, Wells has had a hand in reducing the workweek from 60 to 40 hours, helping 300 laid off Administration for Children’s Services workers find jobs within the city Human Resources Administration and passing legislation making it a felony to attack social service workers.
In response to COVID-19, Wells called on municipal workers to wear masks on the job, secured remote work options and ensured city workers didn’t lose pay or benefits. He caught the coronavirus himself, losing 30 pounds after spending two weeks in a Queens hospital. “That was not so much as scary as horrible – not being able to breathe and making sure I didn’t go on a ventilator,” Wells says. “I went home with oxygen. Thank God I had good care.”
Wells is hopeful New York City Mayor Eric Adams, whom his union endorsed, will keep workers safe. “Eric has his hands full. The violence, the pandemic, the economy,” Wells says. “We hope to be a part of that when that happens.”
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