Angry Unions Say No Deals With Bloomberg

City Hall News - May 25, 2011

by Adam Lisberg

With no raises on tap, city workers skip new contracts

The United Federation of Teachers' last contract expired a few days before Mayor Michael Bloomberg was reelected in 2009. Their next one may not come until after his successor takes office in 2014.

The UFT is not alone. City union leaders say Bloomberg's pledge not to give raises to their workers--and his push to curtail their pensions and health benefits--take away any incentive they have to cut a deal with him.

"I honestly feel that nobody's going to sit down and try to negotiate a contract with this guy," said Harry Nespoli, head of the sanitation workers' union and the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group for unionized city workers.

"I endorsed the man three times. I went out there and supported him on his extended term," he said. "What we've been treated with at the bargaining table lately is disgust."

Times have changed since the boom years of Bloomberg's second term, when he signed off on a round of 4 percent raises for city workers just before the recession hit. Now he decries the cost of pensions, based in part on those increased salaries, and vows to hold a firm line.

"The only way we will be able to afford raises for city workers in the future is if we can find some savings in our pension and health-care bills. That is not a negotiating strategy or stance. It's reality," the mayor said in this year's State of the City address. "I will not sign a contract with salary increases unless they are accompanied by reforms in benefit packages that produce the savings we need."

He earned further labor enmity by demanding an end to $12,000 annual pension bonuses for retired cops and firefighters--benefits they had bought and paid for years ago.

"I don't know if anybody's going to rush to make a contract with this mayor," said Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237. "To ask us to not take an increase--and on top of that, to take cuts--is really draconian."

Bloomberg's budget doesn't include a penny for union raises through the middle of 2012. After that, however, the financial plan assumes 1.25 percent raises each year, and counts $1.6 billion to pay for them through the middle of 2015.

"Even though we recognize that our members are in desperate need of a salary increase, the mayor wants certain concessions that we're not even willing to discuss," said Santos Crespo, president of DC 37 Local 372, which represents 25,000 nonteaching public school employees. "If you rush into a contract, then down the road you realize you might have done better."

Some union leaders are already wondering if they could find a more receptive ear in the next mayor. The field of Democrats jockeying to replace Bloomberg is almost uniformly friendly to labor and eager for union backing, said longtime union and political operative Norman Adler.

"You wouldn't have to say to them, 'What kind of a contract would you give me?'" Adler said. "Of course you couldn't exchange an endorsement for a pecuniary promise. It's against the law. But it wouldn't have to be, because that would be the basic assumption--that they would do better with most Democrats than they would with Bloomberg."

Still, Queens College labor historian Joshua Freeman expects that both sides will start to find common ground again before the end of Bloomberg's term.

"Very often, lo and behold when the time to settle happens, other sums in reserve somehow become available," he said. "Between now and the next mayor being inaugurated is a very long time."