While the City of New York has allowed contracts to expire in every one of its 153 bargaining units, not many unions are actively bargaining with the City. Most municipal unions have concluded that the Bloomberg administration is so fixated on extracting concessions that it is not willing to negotiate fair agreements.
The PSC bargains its contract directly with CUNY, but any economic offer from CUNY management must have City approval.
“It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to settle,” Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, told the civil service weekly The Chief. “Everyone’s just waiting for the next guy.”
That impression was confirmed when the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) reported on the City’s contract proposal in its second formal negotiating session, held on September 17: three years of zero wage increases, followed by two annual raises of 1.25% and labor concessions such as increased health coverage costs for union members, a reduction in vacation days and lower holiday pay.
PBA President Pat Lynch called the proposal “a slap in the face of our police officers.” A PBA statement noted that “the proposed cumulative raise represents less than a third of the increase in the cost of living in our area” during the covered period.
“These demands come as no surprise, given City Hall’s failure to set aside any labor reserve and its repeated insistence on zero retroactive raises and health care cost-sharing as a precondition for settling any labor agreement,” the PBA observed. The union, whose contract expired in 2010, said that the negotiating environment under Michael Bloomberg has been “one of the most difficult we have ever faced.” Like other unions, the PBA criticized the mayor for refusing to budget for city worker raises in recent years, even when there has been a large surplus, and then claiming that there is no money in the budget for any retroactive pay.
While talks between the PBA and the City seemed to be going nowhere fast, municipal labor activists were on the lookout for a forthcoming arbitrator’s decision on the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) contract covering nurses employed by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC).
“The nurses of HHC have been working without a contract for more than three years and have been forced to go to binding arbitration to get a fair wage package,” said a NYSNA statement this spring. NYSNA is one of a minority of public-sector unions in New York City that have recourse to binding arbitration, and whether or not the arbitrator grants back pay to city nurses could affect the settlements achieved by other unions down the road. “The unions have been counting on retroactive pay, which has been a feature of the municipal labor scene for at least 50 years,” noted The Chief.
Meanwhile, City unions in the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) scored a victory in their effort to force negotiation over changes the Bloomberg administration is seeking in employees’ health insurance coverage. This summer NYC moved unilaterally to issue a request for proposals (RFP) from insurance providers that would revamp the NYC Health Benefits Plan, and the MLC went to court to block the move. “This isn’t Wisconsin,” MLC Chair Harry Nespoli said at the time. “In New York, we don’t unilaterally abolish the negotiating rights of unions.”
The MLC won a temporary restraining order blocking the RFP until a September court hearing could be held, and on September 30, a state judge ruled in the MLC’s favor. The court’s injunction against issuance of the City’s unilateral RFP cited past agreements between the City and the MLC, particularly one from 1992, which held that any restructuring of the health plan must be the result of negotiation. “The unions have never been against an RFP on health insurance,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen, a member of the MLC Steering Committee. “There are things in the current health program that could be modernized.”
“If they had done it in the right way, we never would have been pushed into a corner with this thing,” agreed MLC Chair Nespoli, who is also head of the City’s sanitation union. Instead of negotiating with the MLC, however, Nespoli said, the City tried to set the terms for a revised health plan on its own with an outside consultant. “They came to us and handed us a 1,000-page RFP and said, ‘This is what we want to do,’” he told The Chief. “This would affect [us] for the next 20 years.”
The Next Mayor
The City has said it will appeal the ruling. Nespoli said that while the MLC was willing to sit down and talk with the City at any time, the right thing to do would be to leave the issue in the hands of the next mayor.