Unions Set To Square Off With Mayor Bloomberg: All Eyes Are On City Negotiations With UFT & DC 37

NY Daily News - November 11, 2009

by Lisa Colangelo

What will a Bloomberg third term look like for the city's workforce?

City labor leaders are about to find out as they get ready for the next round of contract negotiations.

Several contracts are set to expire in 2010 including District Council 37, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the Uniformed Firefighters Association and Teamsters Local 237.

The last round included 4% yearly salary increases for most city workers.

But that may not be as easy to achieve in this tough economy. And Bloomberg isn't expected to back down from his push for pension reform.

It's also unclear whether a salary increase pattern exists or a new pattern is about to start.

The United Federation of Teachers is in the middle of some tortured contract negotiations with the Bloomberg administration. If they get 4%, will it be based on the last round of negotiations? Or will that in itself be the pattern going forward?

If they don't settle in the coming months, all eyes will be on DC 37. That contract expires in March.

None of this is clear right now and many union heads are reluctant to speculate publicly.

It's safe to say it's not likely other unions with expiring contracts will accept less than the teachers union.

Pension benefits may end up being key to negotiations. The UFT tried to get ahead of the pack on that.

Back in June, Bloomberg and the UFT unveiled a deal to "modify" pension benefits for new employees.

In short. new employees will increase contributions and vesting requirements.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg and Gov. Paterson have been trying to lobby state lawmakers to trim pension benefits through legislation.

If pension benefits are slashed, it may end up being done at the bargaining table - one union at a time.

"The city is going to have to deal with the unions on an individual basis," said Harry Nespoli, head of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, who also serves as chair of the Municipal Labor Committee.

"Some unions looking for something for their members might want to negotiate a change in the pension," he said. "Who knows what unions will do at the bargaining table? Some unions cannot make a pension change. It's very difficult for me to make a pension change for the kind of work my members do."

Nespoli expects negotiations over salary increases to be equally as difficult.

"Everybody has to realize that everything is going up and salaries have to be going up a little, too," he said.

Gregory Floyd, head of Teamsters Local 237, said he is focused on a salary increase that exceeds the rate of inflation and maintaining health benefits for his members.

"We're hoping for the upward [economic] swing we have experienced over the last six months to continue," he said. "That will make negotiations easier."