The New York Times

August 2, 2003

Unions Vow Harder Fight Against Wage-Freeze Plans


New York City's municipal union leaders said yesterday that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's more upbeat view of the city's financial picture would make them fight all the more against the wage freezes he had proposed.

"There's no doubt that what he said weakens his case for a wage freeze," said Arthur Cheliotes, president of Communications Workers Local 1180, which represents 7,500 municipal middle managers and supervisors. "We will not entertain a wage freeze, not when we're required to work with a smaller staff carrying greater workloads and all the increases in the cost of living."

On Thursday, Mr. Bloomberg told the Financial Control Board, a state agency that monitors the city's budget, that the city's finances had turned a corner. He talked of a manageable budget deficit of about $2 billion next year, although those figures do not assume any wage increases for city workers.

Mr. Bloomberg has said he will not award wage increases to more than 250,000 city workers unless the unions agree to productivity gains to finance the raises. The contracts for most city workers expired months ago, but Mr. Bloomberg faces little pressure to reach new contracts soon, except for his desire to put into place new measures to increase productivity.

"It is clear the city still faces financial risks, and I am still disappointed that we were not able to convince our labor leaders that they should assist New York in its time of need," he said. "This coming fiscal year I will appeal to them again to put aside their self-interest and help their fellow New Yorkers."

After those remarks, Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, blamed Mr. Bloomberg for rejecting offers she said the city's unions had already made to save money. She sought to strike a conciliatory tone, walking up to the mayor and kissing him on the cheek.

"The union members want to be part of the solution," she said, after the mayor's presentation. "They want to engage in the give and take."

But in a letter sent to municipal labor leaders on Thursday, Ms. Weingarten, who is also chairwoman of the Municipal Labor Committee, took a tougher tone.

"I am disappointed that the mayor seems to have forgotten that the M.L.C. met him more than halfway," she wrote, referring to proposals that she said would have provided more than half the $600 million in productivity savings he was seeking.

"City workers have sacrificed during these difficult budget times. Thousands of laid-off workers, including hundreds of my own members, are now on unemployment or welfare."

Lillian Roberts, executive director of District Council 37, an umbrella union representing 125,000 municipal workers, said the better fiscal picture made her union less willing to accept a wage freeze.

"I am hopeful that the city's improved financial condition increases the chances for our members to get the fair contract they deserve," she said.

Mr. Cheliotes angrily dismissed Mr. Bloomberg's plea for unions to put their self-interest aside.

"We're not talking self-interest," he said. "We're talking survival. The cost of living has gone up, and like everybody else, we have to pay fare increases, tax increases, toll increases, tuition increases. The cost of living to our members has gone up, and they have to be made whole."

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said he was willing to discuss increasing productivity with the city. As before, he said the city should award the police for the lower crime rates they had already achieved.

"This has been the most productive Police Department in the city's history," he said. "We've brought down crime, but time and time again, the city has refused to recognize that to pay for it."

Mr. Lynch said the union was willing to discuss lengthening work shifts for the police, something Mr. Bloomberg has proposed because it could save the city millions of dollars. "But it has to be done in such a way that the savings are passed along to the members," Mr. Lynch said.