January 30, 2003

Municipal Union Members Brace For Bloomberg Call for Concessions

By Matthew Sweeney

A number of the city’s municipal unions are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement that the city’s pockets are empty when it comes to contract raises.

Members of the municipal labor council will sit down tomorrow with James Hanley, Mr. Bloomberg’s commissioner of labor relations, to hear details on how the mayor expects them to come up with $600 million in savings through productivity increases.

The mayor has placed union productivity increases on the top of his wish list for balancing next year’s $44 billion budget.

Closing the $3.4 billion deficit depends on givebacks from unions and a $1 billion commuter tax that Albany opponents like state senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno have said will be dead on arrival.

The union concessions have seemed just as unlikely. The concessions the mayor requested in the current fiscal year have yet to come forward, forcing Mr. Bloomberg to throw $233 million in projected savings back into the red.

The mayor still plans on $600 million in union concessions – the equivalent of 12,000 jobs, City Hall said – in the fiscal year starting July 1, and union leaders say they’re ready to talk.

“If we could save the city money and find a raise for the municipal work force, that’s our goal,” said Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

The unions have not come around yet, but leaders say they’re willing to see what the city has to offer.

“The PBA has some suggestions for productivity improvement that we would be happy to discuss over the negotiating table,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

The Uniformed Firefighter’s Association is also waiting for tomorrow’s meeting before coming to any conclusion about the mayor’s call for concessions.

Some unions were bothered by Mr. Bloomberg’s attempt to make the union’s look ungrateful, when he said that union members needed to help shoulder the burden during tough times, just as they benefited during the boom times.

“The truth of the matter is that the police officers of New York City, who have been among the most productive employees of the last decade, have not shared in any regard,” said Albert O’Leary, a spokesman for Mr. Lynch.

Everybody benefited from the dramatic drop in crime except the police officers, who took two years with no raises, Mr. O’Leary said.

“His statement certainly doesn’t apply to the police officers,” Mr. O’Leary said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said after the mayor’s budget announcement Tuesday that he was taking the wrong route by bluntly telling labor there was no money in the pot.

“We would prefer to seek creative solutions that benefit both sides, such as retirement incentives and reduced reliance on expensive and unnecessary outside consultants,” she said.

His memories of the 1970s keep Mr. Gorman patient with the city’s current dilemma.

I was around in 1975 during the layoffs so I know the bad news,” he said. “Labor has also shared in bad times.”

Rather than make a hasty decision to lay off workers, the mayor has found ways to trim the budget more creatively, he said.

“We respect the administration because they’re willing to take the tough steps that are necessary,” Mr. Gorman said.