June 8, 2004

Big Rally Set Today In a Unified Call For Higher Wages


Staff Reporter of the Sun

Thousands of teachers, police officers, and firefighters representing the city’s three most powerful public employee unions are planning a large and raucous rally near City Hall today in a unified call for higher wages.

Organizers predicted as many as 30,000 demonstrators would cross the Brooklyn Bridge and descend on City Hall Park by late afternoon in what will be the second day of labor unrest to shake the city.

(Yesterday, upward of 20,000 homecare aides marched in Midtown on the first day of a three-day strike for increased pay).

“We’re at a crossroads now and the essential services are coming together to say, ‘Invest in New York City’s future by investing in us,’” the United Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten, said.

Compounding the tenuous labor situation is a planned three-day walkout of 7,500 day-care workers and supervisors beginning tomorrow from 350 centers that tend to 50,000 children.

Their unions, District Council 1707 and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators,have been without contracts since December 2000 and March 2001, respectively.

“The folks are fed up, mad as hell, and ready to go,” a CSA spokesman, Brian Gibbons, said.“No one wants it to come down to a strike, but we’ve reached a point where people are saying, ‘Enough is enough.’”

All of the unions are rejecting a deal struck by the city’s largest municipal union, District Council 37, which traditionally sets the pattern for other unions and overwhelmingly ratified its agreement with the Bloomberg administration last week. Administration officials insist the city simply cannot afford larger raises, and that mass protests will not sway City Hall.

Noting that pension benefits and other fixed costs are projected to fuel gaping budget deficits in 2006 and beyond, the administration asserts the unions should settle for a deal similar to the DC 37 contract — a one-time $1,000 payment, a 3% raise in the second year, a 2% raise in the third year, and the possibility of another 1% hike based on productivity.

“The raises with DC 37 was similar to what the transit workers have gotten, and state unions have gotten,” Mayor Bloomberg told reporters yesterday. “It provided for the ability to pay going into the future based on productivity. That’s the only ways we’re going to have any more money to do that.”

Seeking to bolster their bosses’ argument, mayoral aides yesterday distributed spreadsheets to reporters at City Hall that they said outlined the actual cost of hiring firefighters, police officers, and teachers.

For example, the city maintains a first-year firefighter with a base salary of $36,878 actually earns $63,179 after a pension, fringe benefits, and overtime costs are factored in. According to the administration, new teachers earn about $14,000 above their $39,000 base salaries, while rookie police officers earn almost $24,000 more than their $36,878 base pay.

Leaders of those unions claim the raises secured by DC 37 are too small to attract new blood and retain experienced workers in their respective fields. Ms. Weingarten said one-inthree teachers leaves for the suburbs within the first three years on the job.

The mayor contends there are nearly 50,000 applicants for 7,000 open teaching positions.

“We are very able to attract people,” he said. “You want to be a firefighter, it is a four- or five-year wait.”

The director of day care for DC 1707, Michael Green, said the union was intent on securing a 4% first-year raise for its workers, followed by another 4% in the second year and 1% in the third.That pattern was established for most unions in a previous round of bargaining three years ago.The supervisors union, CSA, is seeking the same agreement.

The day-care workers are not employed by the city, but insist they should receive the same raises as other city workers because day-care centers receive the vast majority of their funding from the city.

“Our workers have been without a raise for four years,” Mr. Green said. “Every other administration has recognized the fact that they’re responsible for the financing of this contract except this one.”

The Administration for Children’s Services said all unionized day-care centers would be closed during the three-day strike.