January 2, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Labor leaders confident that they finally have someone to talk to at the other end of the bargaining table, hailed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s picks to run the Office of Labor Relations this week, as the former councilman from Brooklyn officially became the city’s 109th chief executive promising to end “economic and social inequities.”
“Now, I know there are those who think that what I said during the campaign was just rhetoric, just ‘political talk’ in the interest of getting elected,” de Blasio said during Wednesday afternoon’s frigid inaugural ceremony at City Hall. “There are some who think now, as we turn to governing, things will continue pretty much like they always have. So, let me be clear: When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it. And we will do it.”
According to some of the city’s most influential labor leaders, Mayor de Blasio’s choice of Bob Linn to run the Office of Labor Relations and Stanley Brezenoff to serve as a special advisor, are both promising first steps towards fulfilling that very progressive agenda.
“They have a lot of experience and history (working with labor leaders) in the past,” said Héctor J. Figueroa, president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union. “I think they will be able to execute the vision of the mayor. We can’t determine yet what they will do until we get to talk about the open contracts and the retroactivity… but I anticipate that we’re going to have a fair team that we can deal with.”
The city’s 300,000 municipal workforce has gone years without a contract under former Mayor-Mike Bloomberg, and is now looking at a reported $7 billion in retroactive pay. Maintaing access to high-quality healthcare also remains a standout issue for workers.
"The New York City labor movement looks forward to working with Bob Linn on a number of issues that have long been on the table,” Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Tweeted this week. "Bob has reaffirmed his understanding of the integral role of unionized workers in providing exceptional healthcare. We look forward to working together to help improve conditions for all of New York City's hardworking men and women.”
Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, also expressed support for the new mayor’s pick to run the Office of Labor Relations.
“My understanding is that [Bob Linn] has got very good credentials,” LaBarbera said. “He’s been around a long time. I think it should be a very cooperative relationship. The goal is to work together to resolve the issues.”
Linn’s pedigree stretches all the way back to the Edward I. Koch administration where he served as the city’s chief negotiator. He also went on to represent many municipal clients while in the private sector as president of Linn & Logan Consulting. In 2001, Linn negotiated a contract on behalf of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association.
Stanley Brezenoff, CEO and president of Continuum Health partners, Inc, also comes out of the Koch administration. In the early 1980s, Brezenoff acted as the head of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. He later served as first deputy mayor, as well as chief executive for the Port Authority and CEO of Maimonides Medical Center.
Exactly how efforts to negotiate new contracts between municipal labor unions and the city ultimately play out, remains to be seen. But Figueroa is already predicting that they will be in stark contrast to the futile negotiations attempted throughout the Bloomberg years.
“It will be day and night compared to the current situation in which we don’t even have anyone to talk to about he labor issues,” Figueroa said. “That shows an incredible amount of progress and shows people that we’ll be able to sit down, dialogue, and offer counter proposals. And that’s exactly what we need.”
The new mayor called growing inequity a “quiet crisis, but one no less pernicious than those that have come before.”
“[Mayor Bill de Blasio] has made very good appointments, and they’re going to fulfill his agenda, and move the city forward in a progressive way,” LaBarbera added. “I think that there are some positive things to look forward to.”