Every municipal employee in New York City is now working under an expired contract. It is the first time since New York City’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s that the City has had no current labor agreements with any of its 152 bargaining units.
In addition to employees of mayoral agencies, workers in NYC-based public agencies, like New York City Transit or CUNY, are also working under expired deals.
A few groups of workers, like school custodians or sewage treatment workers, saw their contracts run out as long ago as 2007 or 2008. But the overwhelming majority of these contracts have expired since 2009.
“The situation is symbolic of the frosty turn Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s relationship with organized labor has taken since he began his third term,” the Wall Street Journal reported November 13. Since the economic crash in 2008, the administration has pushed for a policy of austerity, and has held the line against wage increases.
As public revenues fell in the wake of the crash, the City opposed efforts to balance the budget by raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. That left belt-tightening as the only alternative, and when the City opened bargaining with the largest City workers’ union, DC 37, last November, it offered three years with 0% annual raises, followed by two 2% raises, in a five-year deal.
Union leaders say that this hard-line stance is the root cause of the citywide logjam in public-worker contract talks. As a result, many labor leaders have concluded that it is better to wait.
“Labor is anxious to deal with the next mayor, to deal with a new administration,” the head of the Detectives Endowment Association, Michael Palladino, told the Journal.
The PSC contract with CUNY expired on October 19, 2010. Most other public workers in NYC saw their contracts expire even longer ago than that: teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters and members of the largest city workers’ union, DC 37, have all been working even longer without a new contract than members of the PSC.
Because CUNY must get backing from both the City and State for any contract settlement, the University has traditionally been reluctant to make an economic offer while municipal union contracts are largely unsettled. But the PSC and CUNY have been holding talks on other fronts, seeking to make progress where they can, even in the absence of an economic offer.
Agreements have been reached that made paid parental leave a permanent part of the contract, and put more money into the PSC-CUNY Research Awards. Talks have continued on adjunct health care, and the union is hopeful that they will be concluded soon.
Under a part of New York labor law, called the Triborough Amendment, when a public-worker contract expires, its terms remain in place until a new agreement is negotiated. This means that the grievance procedure and other union rights are still in force, but salary schedules remain unchanged. (Movement within an existing salary schedule, such as the step increases laid out in the PSC contract, can still proceed, since that schedule is still on the books. But the salary schedule as a whole is not increased, so the amounts in the schedule haven’t changed, and those who have reached the top of their scale will get no raises until there is a new agreement.)
While contract discussions between the City of New York and its unions remain largely frozen, there have been some procedural developments. In early October 2012, New York’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) named the three members of a fact-finding panel that will examine the standoff between the United Federation of Teachers and the NYC Department of Education. “Fact-finding” is essentially a form of non-binding arbitration, and the three panel members are all veteran labor arbitrators. After extensive hearings, they are to issue a report on “the causes and circumstances of the dispute.”
“For nearly three years we have been unable to reach a new contract with the Department of Education,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “In the past a review of the issues by independent fact-finders appointed by the State has helped break this kind of deadlock.”
On November 29, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), the K-12 principals’ union, asked PERB to appoint a fact-finding panel to assess its contract dispute as well.
CSA’s announcement indicated why both the UFT and CSA are hopeful that the report of a fact-finding panel would be sympathetic to the unions’ case:
“During the last round of bargaining, the City agreed to give every municipal union, except for the UFT and CSA, a 4% raise each year over two years,” the principals’ union said. “CSA is seeking a two-year contract with 4% raises in each year, following that pattern established by the City.”
While the City has insisted on following “the pattern” in previous years, it now maintains it cannot afford to give those 4% raises to the UFT and CSA. The two unions hope that the fact-finding panels will give more weight to the precedent set by those other contracts, and recommend that they get the same 4% hikes that other unions have already received.
Stalled Contract Talks: City Unions Face Hostile Bargaining Climate