February 19, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Mayor Bill de Blasio’s refusal to talk more about how the city’s budgetary surplus might play into outstanding contract talks with over 150 municipal unions is making an already restless chair of the Municipal Labor Committee even more antsy for talks to finally start – while also stoking fears that the new administration could turn out to be just as hardheaded as the last one.
“If they’re going to go in there the way the Bloomberg administration did, then we're going nowhere again,” Municipal Labor Committee Chair Harry Nespoli told LaborPress.
The de Blasio administration’s recent contract agreement with the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association’s 200 environmental officers, might be an indication that in terms of contract negotiations, the new mayor is, in fact, drawing a sharp distinction between himself and his billionaire predecessor.
But the chief of the umbrella group representing most of the city’s municipal workforce maintains that the surplus monies reported in the mayor’s preliminary budget should be used to help satisfy the truckload of municipal contracts still left open when Michael Bloomberg finally vacated office after three terms.
“What Bloomberg should have done was put money aside for labor,” Nespoli continued. “But he avoided that. So, now de Blasio comes in and the poor guy doesn’t have a chance to turn around to do anything. But, you can use the reserve. He should be using the reserve. That’s how people balance off the budget. You have to pay the workforce.”
Labor leaders insist that the almost 300,000 city workers who have lost ground during the Bloomberg years, are now entitled to retroactive pay raises that amount to billions of dollars.
“I’m waiting to get to the bargaining table, and the retroactive money has to be there, too,” Nespoli said.
The city reportedly could find itself with a $4 billion surplus in its coffers this year alone. But although the budget is balanced for this fiscal year and the next, the mayor is anticipating trouble in 2016 when a purported $1.1 billion deficit is set to materialize.
“Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary budget is a good starting point for addressing the social and fiscal challenges of our City,” Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement. “However, until the contracts with New York City’s municipal workforce are resolved, no one will know our true fiscal outlook.”
Those working without contracts include teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, police officers, firefighters, mechanics, clerks and tradespeople.
“About every city worker in the City of New York is working without a contract,” Nespoli said.
Before striking a deal with the long-suffering environmental officers – almost 10 years without a contract – the mayor’s labor relations team was known to be at least making overtures to those labor unions that have been working without a contract the longest.
In releasing his preliminary budget last week, Mayor de Blasio said that the “progressive” plan is one that will "put us on the road to giving hardworking New Yorkers a fair shot.”
But even if contract negotiations were to start immediately, Nespoli isn’t convinced that they could be settled as quickly as the new mayor would like.
“Mayor de Blasio was saying when he first got into office that he would like to wrap up the contracts within a year – but I don’t believe that’s possible to do,” Nespoli added. “I think that it’s going to go longer. And it’s going to put a lot of stress on the workforce.”
Just another reason, according to the labor leader, for both sides to “sit down and start talking, – and start moving forward.”
“I think that this administration will be more consistent at the bargaining table than the Bloomberg administration,” Nespoli concluded. “That was a total disaster.”