April 22, 2004

Mayor Eyes Pattern For the Next Round Of Union Bargaining

Staff Reporter of the Sun

Mayor Bloomberg is counting on the labor agreement he forged with the city’s largest union, District Council 37, to set the bar for the city’s negotiations with police and teachers.

And while the other municipal unions can’t distance themselves fast enough from the DC-37 deal, analysts said Mr. Bloomberg might have found the contract template for which he has been searching.

The Bloomberg administration and the city’s largest municipal union reached a tentative agreement on Tuesday night that would increase the wages of 121,000 city workers by some 6% over the next three years.

Those raises would be financed largely on the backs of new workers. They would have a starting salary about 15% lower than the starting salaries of current DC-37 employees.

DC-37’s union’s executive committee, which has been divided since a close January election put Lillian Roberts in charge of the union of clerks and administrators, is expected to grouse about the details and then ultimately approve the new pact, passing it onto their members for a vote. It is expected to be approved.

To get to this point, though, Mr. Bloomberg had to promise the members a retroactive raise and a 3% increase in pay to keep pace with inflation. That will set the city back about $200 million in fiscal 2005.

“This is about all we can afford,” Mr. Bloomberg told reporters yesterday, adding that they could see for themselves on Monday when the mayor’s 2005 budget is released. He said there is no money left for pay hikes.

He went further, putting other unions on notice that the DC-37 contract was the framework by which he intended to work going forward.

“On balance I think this has set the pattern. It is a pattern that was to some extent set by the state with their workers, and now this is the city pattern,” he said yesterday.

If the mayor succeeds in convincing the police and teachers unions that is the case, the city has a good deal, said a tax policy expert from the Manhattan Institute, E. J. McMahon.

“Put aside the spin and this is really a status quo deal that buys the mayor peace with one union going into an election,” Mr. McMahon said. “That would be, by normal New York standards, getting off cheap if he can actually extract that from the other unions.”

The police union is most vulnerable to a similar accord, union officials conceded privately. That labor agreement is in mediation and the Public Employment Relations Board is supposed to come up with a solution that is acceptable to both the city and the police. They are likely to find the DC-37 agreement a good framework for a deal, analyst and labor officials said.

The police have enough wiggle room in their work rules — from two-man cars to vast amounts of overtime — they could negotiate themselves a goodsized raise without busting the city’s budget by cutting back on those extras.

The mediators may compel them to do just that, which is why the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the police union,came out supporting only parts of the DC-37 deal and rejecting others.

Retroactive raises are a good thing, President Patrick Lynch said yesterday, but starting police officers aren’t in a position to take any pay cuts.

“Given the wide disparity between police officers’ salaries in the metropolitan area and the NYPD’s serious recruitment and retention problem recognized by the state’s arbitrator last year, it is clear that this type of settlement will not serve the best interest of the city of New York or its heroic police officers,” he said.

The United Federation of Teachers offers a stickier problem. It doesn’t have a mediator pushing for a speedy contract solution and that gives teachers a little more room for negotiation, and Mr. Bloomberg has painted himself into a corner by making education the cornerstone of his re-election drive.

Just last week, he kicked off an advertising campaign to recruit some new 8,000 teachers into the city’s school system. It would be hard to woo new educators if they knew, right off the bat, they would be starting with a lower wage scale than their predecessors.

The other complicating factor for the teacher negotiations is a recent court decision that found the state was shortchanging the city in education funding. Teachers are looking to that financial windfall as a way out of the contract impasse. Mr. Bloomberg hasn’t done much to disabuse them of that notion.

Mr. Bloomberg has been telling the teachers for months they would have to finance their raises with productivity enhancements. That is, in theory, how DC-37 will finance its raises in the future. What, constitutes a productivity enhancement could be where the negotiation really lies.