12/06/2013 06:23 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

NYCHA Is Key to Restoring a City for All

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio won the election in large part by emphasizing that New York was no longer one city but two -- one where the rich use the city as their playground and another where many people are just struggling to survive.

He's right -- New York is divided, and that divide is only growing bigger every day. Now de Blasio is calling on us to help him build one New York, where we all rise together. Teamsters Local 237 is with him because we know that coming together is the only way we can all succeed.

In recent weeks, as the mayor-elect has begun assembling the team that will pick the next generation of leaders at City Hall, many have asked if he can achieve the lofty goals he set out in his campaign. Many are wondering if he has been promising too much change, too quickly.

Setting lofty goals is the right course of action, because if we don't aim high, we'll never get there.

Challenge number one is public housing. As the union representing more than 8,000 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) employees, Local 237 Teamsters is committed to working to fix the public housing crisis that was left to fester under the Bloomberg administration.

We will work with Mayor de Blasio to carry out his campaign manifesto, to "bring NYCHA up to code with real, substantive repairs made by a dedicated workforce." And by working together, there's no problem we can't tackle.

The city persecutes landlords who don't provide heat, repair elevators and remove toxic mold, but they turn a blind eye when that neglect happens in public housing. As public advocate, de Blasio introduced and passed the Heat Enforcement for All Tenants (HEAT) Act strengthening penalties on slumlords trying to cut costs by cutting off tenants' heat. We will work with the de Blasio administration to ensure those same standards are applied to NYCHA developments as well.

For those who think we can't succeed, look at what we have already done. Thanks to Local 237's work with task force members and other NYCHA labor unions, we have already helped to change the management structure at NYCHA by making it more inclusive of actual NYCHA tenants. We have brought the issue of public housing to the top of the agenda and forced the "powers that be" to listen to us.

The next step is to remove current NYCHA Chairman John Rhea and the rest of his top staff, which we anticipate as soon as Mayor de Blasio takes office in January. We need a chairman that treats residents and workers with the compassion and conscientiousness they deserve. The chairman should be proud to work on behalf of NYCHA residents -- residents who are the backbone of the city and its middle class.

With new leadership, we will hopefully see more new ideas like those we have suggested in the past, including streamlining operation processes and decentralizing repair appointments. As we work with Mayor de Blasio, we hope he continues to put faith in the public workers who get the job done and stop the costly outsourcing. That faith must also include a new contract for NYCHA workers. We have put our head down and sacrificed by forgoing any cost of living increase while the city funded other pressing issues, like rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. However, it is now time to receive what we are owed for that sacrifice -- a contract with the city with proper back pay to pay off the debt we were asked to incur as a result of our sacrifice.

There may be 400,000 millionaires in the city, but there are also more than 400,000 city residents who call public housing home, and they deserve the same rights afforded to the rich. We know Mayor de Blasio is committed to bringing back New York City's middle class, and Local 237 stands with him in that fight because the road to renewed prosperity runs right through NYCHA.