New York Daily News

November 16, 2002

Cops' ad blasts Mike on own show

By DAVID SALTONSTALL
DAILY NEWS CITY HALL BUREAU CHIEF

Mayor Bloomberg got an arresting dose of budgetary backlash yesterday when the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association crashed his weekly radio show with a new ad.

"You know that nice, safe feeling you have now?" intoned PBA President Patrick Lynch. "Well, enjoy it while you can, because at the rate New York City is losing police officers, that feeling won't be here for long."

It was the opening shot in what likely will be a protracted battle between the city and its municipal workforce, which will shrink by 8,000 by June 2004.

The Police Department is slated to lose 1,900 cops under Bloomberg's plan.

In addition, the mayor marked the unions for $600 million in concessions over the next 18 months to help balance the city's books.

He has given the unions a stark choice: Find the $600 million on your own, or the city will cut 12,000 jobs - through layoffs, if necessary.

And this is before unions negotiate new contracts, in which raises will have to be balanced by additional givebacks and other efficiencies in the future.

Not since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, when unions deferred wage increases and guaranteed a certain rate of retirement, has so much been asked of city workers.

'A negotiation document'

If Bloomberg was trying to get their attention, he succeeded. Whether he'll get their money remains unclear.

"A budget is a negotiation document," teachers union President Randi Weingarten, who heads an umbrella group of city unions, said yesterday. "I'm sure he's raising that as a negotiation issue."

Perhaps. But Bloomberg is expected to push for two reforms that most workers outside of city government have lived with for years - a 40-hour work week and a requirement that employees contribute to their health plans.

Many city staffers work 35 hours a week - compared with 37-1/2 at the state level and 40 hours in the federal government - and pay for only supplemental health insurance.

Both could be big tickets. Moving just 60,000 workers to 40 hours a week from 35 hours, for instance, could save the city more than $200 million, according to the Citizens Budget Commission.

And requiring individuals to contribute 10%, families 20% and retirees 50% to their health plans would reel in $500 million, the commission has found.

For the average worker, that totals $22 a month. For families, it's $108 a month.

The wild card in all this - as in most other budget issues - is Albany. Many believe that part of Bloomberg's forcefulness is aimed at getting union leaders to lobby hard for a rejiggered commuter tax in Albany, where they arguably have more pull than he does.

"The question for Bloomberg is, how do I get this package of new taxes through Albany, and what help do I need?" said one union insider. "Who does he go to but organized labor?"