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  Public Employee Press

PEP Feb 2014 Table of Contents
  La Voz

Public Employee Press

City unions push for economic agreements

Municipal unions hope to begin negotiations soon with the new administration on about 150 outstanding contracts.

Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg left office Dec. 31 with all city employees working under expired contracts. Most DC 37 members have gone nearly four years without a wage increase, and the last contractual raise for teachers and many DC 37 prevailing-rate workers was six years ago.

During his 2013 election campaign, new Mayor Bill de Blasio signaled that he would deal more fairly with the unions. But Bloomberg dealt de Blasio a poor hand, leaving the city with a minuscule labor reserve and a huge moral debt to its employees by using last year's $2.4 billion surplus to plug future deficits.

"The new administration has definitely set a positive tone about its labor policy," DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts said. "Nevertheless, we expect this round of bargaining to be very challenging, because more than 300,000 city employees don't have a contract."

Besides calling for raises, DC 37 Associate Director Henry Garrido said the union will press the city to deal with other important priorities, including protecting health coverage and additional funding for welfare benefits, including the popular prescription drug plan.

Last year, Bloomberg tried to put the city's health-care contract up for bid without consulting the unions, but labor leaders don't expect such heavy-handed tactics from de Blasio. The Municipal Labor Committee's health benefits subcommittee, chaired by Willie Chang, senior director of health planning of the DC 37 Health & Security Plan, found that Bloomberg's scheme would have jeopardized the health insurance benefits, and the MLC blocked it in court.

"Our members haven't seen a pay raise for a long time, and they are struggling to get by as the cost of living keeps rising," said DC 37 Research and Negotiations Director Evelyn Seinfeld. "The city work force has dropped by thousands in recent years; employees have increased their productivity but have not been compensated for their extra work."

DC 37's last contract with the city expired in 2010, but its terms remain in effect. Since members' last pay increase, the cost of living has risen more than 9.6 percent, eroding their purchasing power and living standards.

The economic agreement covers 100,000 workers at city agencies, the Health and Hospitals Corp., libraries, cultural institutions, and the New York City Housing Authority.

De Blasio's mayoral campaign focused on a "Tale of Two Cities," showing how the wealthy 1 percent thrived during Bloomberg's 12 years in office while working-class people like DC 37 members had a harder time trying to support their families.

Bloomberg's policy of contracting out undermined municipal services; generous tax breaks helped developers and landlords while tenants faced higher rents.

Long-time Labor Commissioner James F. Hanley stepped down in the fall. De Blasio named Robert Linn, the chief labor negotiator during the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch, as his commissioner, with Stanley Brezenoff, another Koch aide, as an unpaid advisor.

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