The Chief
July 23, 2004

Mayor, Unions Play Politics

As cops, firefighters and Teachers began informational picketing protesting his stance in contract talks last week, Mayor Bloomberg showed his testy side in response.

On July 19, when the picketing began, he said that the protests outside Madison Square Garden as a run-up to the Republican National Convention “seems to me to just be wasting everybody’s time and drives everybody further apart.”

Four days later, speaking on his WABC-AM radio show, the Mayor turned up the rhetorical heat by claiming that the protests did not reflect the sentiments of union members but rather were “driven by the union leaders who are running for re-election all the time, and they’ve got to show that they’re stronger than everybody else.”

He also lobbed this Molotov Cocktail at labor leaders Steve Cassidy, Pat Lynch and Randi Weingarten by declaring, “Let’s change leadership of these unions, and put in people who care about the union members, and sit down and try to find a way to generate productivity savings so that we can pay our municipal members more.”

For a man who always claims he likes to do his negotiation at the bargaining table rather than through the media, Mr. Bloomberg certainly said a few mouthfuls.

A spokesman for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association saw the remarks as a gift to Mr. Lynch and his board, stating, “We would like to thank the Mayor for getting the union leadership re-elected three years from now.”

Mr. Cassidy, who as president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association is the only one of the Mayor’s three targets who has to worry about re-election before Mr. Bloomberg does, also viewed the outburst as the kind of positive ad that campaign money can’t buy, declaring, “The Mayor is now attacking union leaders who have the audacity to stand up and fight for their members.”

Ms. Weingarten, who three months ago was easily re-elected as president of the United Federation of Teachers, turned the debate in an ideological direction, calling it “very Republican that he would go so personal and not speak to the issues.”

In taking on those three unions, Mr. Bloomberg did no favor to the leadership of District Council 37 by praising it of being “responsible” in making the contract settlement that the PBA, UFA and UFT have disdained. Since DC 37 made the deal without so much as a heads-up to other municipal unions, many of which have no choice but to accept several key concessions it agreed to affecting new employees, “responsible” is not the word that most other labor leaders would apply.

But while the Mayor’s criticisms are unlikely to hurt his targets with their members, the PBA and the UFA also engaged in one piece of rhetoric lately that was not particularly well considered. In an advertisement appearing in the Washington Post explaining their picketing, they and some other police and fire unions stated that they would rather be inside during the convention supporting President Bush than outside protesting.

Whatever sentimental attachment cops and firefighters may have for Mr. Bush, the city’s limited resources to fund pay raises are in no small measure the result of the effect his tax cuts have had on municipal revenues and the shameful short-changing of New York on homeland security aid that has been perpetuated by the Bush Administration and the Republic Congress.

That point was underscored by the national 9/11 Commission last week, which decried the “pork-barrel” funding method that has made the likelihood of a terrorist strike in an area a secondary consideration in allocating Federal money. The result has been that while the city is currently spending about $900 million a year on homeland security measures, only $95 million of it is coming from the Federal Government.

Think an extra $800 million could have been useful to sweeten the collective-bargaining pot? When Mr. Lynch and Mr. Cassidy speak to their GOP friends about the way they are being disrespected by this Republican Mayor, they might want to mention that bit of short-changing as well, and put a little urgency behind the issue. If they don’t, they risk seeming to be as insincere as, oh, your average politician, using only the facts that work to their advantage at that moment.