2010 Best of New York Award

Lillian Roberts
Executive Director
District Council 37

Lillian Roberts, named one of the 30 Most Influential Black New Yorkers by the New York Post in 2007, was first elected DC 37 executive director in 2002, after serving as a consultant to the union she helped build. She also serves as a vice president of the New York State AFL-CIO, a vice president of the New York City Central Labor Council and executive vice chair of the Municipal Labor Committee.

Ms. Roberts has always opposed costly government waste. During her tenure, DC 37 has issued four white papers identifying some $3 billion that could be saved by eliminating private consultants and letting city employees do the work. City agencies have phased in many of these cost-saving proposals.

Working with the Mayor, she spearheaded another proposal that has given municipal workers an affordable way to meet the city’s requirements that they live in the five boroughs. DC 37’s Affordable Housing Program allows city workers preference for five percent of all units in city-sponsored lotteries for affordable homes and apartments, as well as down payment grants through the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development and homebuyer training and education through Neighborhood Housing Services.

After becoming a nurse’s aide in her native Chicago, Ms. Roberts joined the hospital local of AFSCME’s DC 34 in 1959, soon becoming a shop steward and officer. Next, as a DC 19 staff rep, she spearheaded the creation of five new locals and led an organizing drive in four Chicago mental hospitals. In 1965, she relocated to New York City to build up DC 37’s Hospital’s Division and led the campaign to organize thousands of city hospital workers. As DC 37’s associate director from 1967 to 1981, she played a major role in organizing new members and establishing an array of new benefits, including the largest union-based adult education program in the country. During her tenure, DC 37 ranks skyrocketed from 30,000 to 120,000 members.

Ms. Roberts is a former NYS Commissioner of Labor and the recipient of numerous awards, including the United Negro College Fund Distinguished Leadership Award, the NAACP Roy Wilkins Awards, the First Lady of Labor Award from the Episcopal Churchwomen and the Freedom Fighter Award from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. She has been named by Essence Magazine as “probably the most powerful black person in American labor.”