Dennis Ifill: Working For The Underrepresented
BY JON CRONIN
Dennis Ifill arrived in the United States from Guyana as a young man, leaving behind a prosperous career in the labor movement of his home country to find an even brighter one in America.
In Guyana, he attended Tutorial High School and continued his education at the Critchlow Labor College. After graduation, he became a shop steward for the Ministry of Health, Housing and Labor.
“Growing up in a third-world country, you have to be involved in the labor movement cause that’s all you have,” he said of his participation in the movement from a young age.
Ifill was later awarded a scholarship to the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, where he graduated with a degree in world history.
When he came to the United States at age 27, he settled in Brooklyn with family members who had already emigrated, and he obtained a temporary job in the mailroom at a bank. In 1989, the state took over rent regulation from the city, and several of his contacts there knew of his labor experience in Guyana. They asked him to apply for a position within the new agency, the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal.
“Once I joined the agency, I started attending union meetings [at DC 37],” Ifill said.
He was later hired as a rent examiner and ran for union representative of Local 1359, which he noted that he won in a landslide. He spent four years as the union’s rent examiner representative and then was elected as its vice president. He served six terms and was then elected president in 2007.
Ifill recognizes how fortunate he was when he immigrated to the United States. He was sponsored by his brother and had family to receive him upon his arrival.
“I had the documents to come here legally, [but now] people come here to save their lives, to find a secure place to call home,” he said of the nation’s current climate. “What we need is more compassion. The world is changing. People leave their homes for different reasons.”
As president of Local 1359, he represents DC 37 union members who are a part of the executive branch of civil service and are employed by New York State. DC 37 is also the largest public service union in New York City. Ifill said that it has roughly 126,000 employees and approximately 60,000 retirees.
He said that he has spent the past 10 years fighting for members’ needs at the negotiation table. His job entails making sure that his group of employees are recognized within DC 37.
Ifill is also vice president of DC37’s executive board and chairman of its political action committee. He was recently named a Distinguished Labor Leader.
In Rosedale, where he lives with his wife of 28 years, Dollette, he is an active member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church’s Men’s Guild. He is also a proud father and grandfather.
As an active member of the church, Ifill said that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent quoting of the Bible in his defense of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border was “absurd.”
“I think it should be stressed to remember that we are all immigrants to the United States. It’s the main reason we should not neglect others,” Ifill said.
Reach reporter Jon Cronin via email at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 357-7400, ext. 125.