New York Daily News

May 29, 2013


 

UFT, PBA bosses say billions owed in back pay for union members

Experts say it would hurt New Yorkers if the exorbitant amount of back pay were factored into the city budget. 'You would have to get taxes up to a stratospheric level,' says one policy analyst.

By Glenn Blain
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

ANTONELLI, RON, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/

UFT President Michael Mulgrew says members of the teachers union are owed $3.2 billion in back pay.

The president of the city teachers union, Michael Mulgrew, has two words for the next mayor: Pay up.

The 94,000 members of his union have not had a raise in 4 1/2 years, he says, since the last teachers contract expired in 2009. A teacher earning $54,000 in 2009 might now be pulling down an additional $7,000 annually if the city had signed a new labor pact.

Mulgrew figures that his members are owed far more than $3.2 billion in back wages.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association chief Patrick Lynch has been crunching the numbers, too.

He believes his 23,000 members deserve raises higher than the rate of inflation since their contract expired in 2010. Using his figures, a five-year veteran would now make some $5,000 more than the present salary of $76,444. And the PBA’s cumulative bill to the taxpayers would be $530 million.

Across the city, from sanitation garages to water plants to firehouses, union chiefs are making similar calculations. The 152 labor contracts covering city workers expired years ago, and negotiations with the Bloomberg administration have gone nowhere. The unions believe their workers are now owed $7.2 billion to $7.8 billion in back pay.

JOHN MARSHALL MANTEL/AP

Pat Lynch, president of New York Police Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, says $530 million is owed in back pay.

And when the next mayor takes office Jan. 1, the unions will present the bill to the city.

Yet having to shell out a sum remotely of that order would force the next mayor to make deep service cuts, including to public safety and schools, or hike taxes — or do both, according to fiscal experts.

“You would need to cut all over the place, including in places that people hold sacred, like education,” said Maria Doulis, director of New York City Studies for the Citizens Budget Commission.

Added E.J. McMahon, senior fellow at the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a taxpayer watchdog group: “You would have to get taxes up to a stratospheric level to pay for something like even half that on an ongoing basis.”

Despite the threat that fewer cops will patrol the streets and classrooms will be more crowded, the mayoral hopefuls have largely been silent about a challenge that will likely define the next mayor’s first year in office, and perhaps his or her entire first term.

And there is no question this challenge is coming. The labor bosses already are looking past Mayor Bloomberg in the hope his successor will be more willing to meet their needs.

“While our sympathy goes out to the next mayor, we will still be glad to be rid of this guy once and for all,” Mulgrew said after Bloomberg released a final budget proposal that included zero for raises.

The numbers calculated by the UFT and PBA would have a tremendous effect on the city budget, experts say, slashing services and boosting taxes.

The labor leaders say the nearly 300,000 union workers on the city payroll are right to expect salary increases and back pay.

“This is New York City, and the workers make us what we are. This is what New York City is, and we deserve raises,” said Harry Nespoli, president of Local 831 of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association and head of the Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella organization of city unions.

Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, described Bloomberg's insistence on ruling out pay hikes as “a hard bargaining position to accept, not to mention being unfair.”

On the front lines, the workers feel the same way.

“It is difficult to catch up when everything else is going up 5%. I haven’t been on a vacation in two years,” said Richard Bond, a $74,000-a-year supervisor with the Administration for Children's Services in Brooklyn and a member of Local 371 of the Social Service Employees Union, which has been without a contract and pay hikes since 2010.

Saying it’s the mayor’s job to figure out how to pay for raises, the union leaders hold Bloomberg responsible for allowing the bill for retroactive pay to grow so large.

“If someone tells (you) your foundation is cracked and this is the price to fix it and if you don’t fix it the house will fall down, you have to fix it,” Mulgrew said. “Leaving the next mayor in this position was irresponsible on Bloomberg’s behalf. The contracts did not have to wait.”

CRAIG WARGA/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Union bosses are already looking past an immovable Mayor Michael Bloomberg to potential successors who would better support unions.

Union leaders also argue that the city has a record of making dire fiscal projections that evaporate with time. Finally, their members are in no mood to settle without back pay.

“I think any uniformed union leader would have to have a death wish to tell their members we are giving up 32 months of retroactive raises because the mayor asked us to,” said labor expert Richard Steier, editor of The Chief-Leader, a newspaper that closely covers municipal labor.

Bloomberg has countered that “New York City is not obligated to pay its employees retroactive increases.” He said Tuesday that “the money is just not there,” adding, “The fact is the city can’t afford retroactive raises without a massive tax increase that would devastate our economy.”

The unions have done well compared with inflation since 2000. As the cost of living rose 29%, the 130,000 members of District Council 37 enjoyed pay boosts totaling 36%, the teachers gained 43% and the PBA scored 56%.

Taxpayers have also borne steeply rising expenses for pensions and health insurance. Over the decade leading up to 2012, the city’s retirement payments rose 500%, to $7.8 billion from $1.3 billion, and its health care bill rose 63%, to $6.2 billion from $3.8 billion.

HANDSCHUH, DAVID

Analysts say returning back pay to union members would involve deep cuts to the services and much higher taxes to New Yorkers.

Factoring in pensions, health care and mandated seniority raises, Bloomberg calculates that the city’s cost for an average teacher climbed to $123,000 from $110,000 just since the city’s contract with Mulgrew’s union, the United Federation of Teachers, expired in 2009.

The mayor has offered raises only if the unions grant money-saving contract concessions, most likely by having workers contribute to health care. More than 90% of the workforce pays nothing for coverage, but DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts said givebacks in that area are “not even a conversation.”

City labor leaders last agreed to contracts with zero raises in 1995 and 1996. On the state level, Gov. Cuomo used the threat of layoffs to secure contracts that froze salaries for two years and then paid only modest increases. He also persuaded the state unions to increase health care contributions.

While Bloomberg would like to follow that pattern, the unions will try to override it. Mulgrew has sought a ruling by a factfinding panel as the UFT seeks to gain two 4% raises that Bloomberg granted to other unions but denied to the teachers after the national economic meltdown slashed city revenue in 2009.

Many labor experts give Mulgrew a good shot at winning.

“The momentum is there for that one,” said the Citizens Budget Commission’s Doulis.

A ruling favorable to Mulgrew would bolster the UFT’s demand for back pay, starting with a $3.2 billion down payment and climbing from there.

It would also move all the unions closer to claiming billions of additional dollars from the next mayor, money that he or she does not now have — and is not talking about today.