It took a while—and support from her DC37 union educational benefits—but Marie Lodescar Francois is ready to raise her voice … and perhaps a few roofs.
“I believe in lifelong learning. And DC37 offers lifelong learning and professional development, free of charge,” said Marie. “Education can be life-changing. DC37 knows that.”
A native of Haiti, Marie moved to the U.S. in 1983. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from City College of New York, Marie took a job with NYC Transit. “They had a special program called Transit Corps of Engineers,” Marie said. They selected newly graduated college students with at least a B GPA. I guess Transit was looking for a new generation of high potential employees—“digital natives”—to bring new ideas to the organization.” Marie currently works in the Car Equipment Division involving New Technology Trains, which are all systematically controlled by software.
Right away, Marie got active in Local 375 and created an impressive career path for herself, including some promotions through City exams. “My second promotion was a major turning point because it marked the successful and fair resolution of distribution of the title to people on the Civil Service list,” she said. “I worked hard for that.” Because of her determination, the President of Local 375 invited her to be part of his team and nominated her to be Pension Chair; subsequently, she was elected Secretary-Treasurer. When her title changed to Computer Specialist, Marie transferred to Local 2627. The President of that Local asked Marie to join his leadership team and nominated her to the Board of Trustees. “Looking back,” Marie said, “I guess I was kind of in leadership mode all along.”
But still, Marie had doubts. She participated in DC37’s Lillian Roberts Women’s Leadership Academy. “It’s a great program,” Marie said. “It provides a space for women to express themselves. We talked about all the issues women go through in their lives. At the end of the day, those ladies didn’t want to leave. You could feel the support and love in the room.” She added, “Lillian Roberts was where I started to realize I had a voice. Since English isn’t my native language, I had never felt comfortable talking in front of people. I started to realize that maybe I could after all.”
Taking advantage of DC37’s tuition benefit, Marie enrolled in SLU’s Labor Relations Certificate program. “This program has really helped me develop my communication skills, both speaking and writing. There is a Writing Center that assigns you a tutor to help you organize your paper. They help with every stage of the process. As for speaking skills, that started changing with my very first class, Labor History with Professor Eugene Carroll. He asked us to talk about our family trees, and the type of work our parents did for a living. I had so much to say about my parents, who were such hard workers, and it kind of eased me into talking in front of a group
Marie’s next two classes were with Professor Claudia Schacter-deChabert in Leadership in Unions and Contract Administration. “Those were important classes,” she said. “I learned to interpret contract language, and that made me more confident about leading in a unionized organization and responding to grievances. Now I’m taking Arbitration with Professor Joshua Bienstock, which is also a really important subject for union officers and shop stewards.” Marie laughed and said, “The professor is turning us into labor lawyers, teaching us the tools required to represent union members in arbitration hearings.” She added, “Every class I have taken at SLU just got better and better. Thanks to my professors, I feel I have the knowledge and confidence now to raise my voice and fight for my co-workers and defend my fellow union members in contract disputes.”
Asked about DC37’s new Labor Leadership Program, Marie was enthusiastic. “DC37 has a special relationship with SLU. When I wanted to learn more, DC37 directed me to SLU. Now I want to continue in SLU’s graduate program to deepen my knowledge and strengthen my skills so I can better stand up for the union and our members. Access to these new benefits hopefully will help me start working on the advanced certificate [in labor relations] and get into the Master’s program.”
She added, “The labor movement is the backbone of the middle class. The labor movement has fought all along for better and safer working conditions for its members, for health care, and now it is fighting for education, too. This new program is just one more example of that.”
What would she say to her fellow DC37 members about the Labor Leadership Program? “Professional credentials are very important. SLU can help you get ahead in your career and be more productive. And you need knowledge about labor law. You need to know how to read a union contract—if you don’t know the contract you can be taken advantage of. Knowledge is powerful. Knowledge helps you protect yourself, and it helps you contribute.”
As for Marie, she’s not about to quiet down. “I want to keep going up the ladder. I want to be in management. Especially, I want to empower women. I want to create a path for the women in my workplace and be an inspiration to them. Thanks to the special relationship between DC37 and SLU, they have an opportunity to learn, to equip themselves and move ahead in their lives and their careers.”
Marie smiled. “And that’s something to shout about!”