Union and city open contract talks
The union met with the city on Nov. 10 in the opening of bargaining talks at DC 37 headquarters. The union called
for a “fair, reasonable and livable” wage increase.
By GREGORY N. HEIRES
District Council 37 and the city opened bargaining Nov. 10 on a new economic agreement for 100,000 members.
The union presented its demand for a "fair, reasonable and livable" wage increase, and the city responded with its proposal.
Noting that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has told municipal unions that any pay increase must be self-funded, DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts pointed to the millions of dollars that the city wastes on contracting out.
New York City Labor Commissioner James F. Hanley underscored what he described as the severe financial pressure on the city, which he claimed lacks funds for an immediate raise.
The union's latest contract expired in March 2010. Its terms will remain in effect as the new pact is negotiated. Members received their last pay increase on March 3, 2009.
Funds for raises
The union has shown how the city loses millions of dollars by failing to collect certain taxes, and the city is reviewing property tax exemptions in response to DC 37's criticism. By addressing uncollected taxes, the city could bring in an extra $500 million in recurring revenue, according to the union.
The union seeks a three-year contract with additional funding for health and welfare benefits and a no-layoff clause. The demands include eliminating the reduced initial pay scale and lower benefits for new workers, adding a recurring annuity payment and increasing mileage and meal allowances.
The DC 37 Negotiating Committee, made up of the union's local presidents, developed the demands, which the Delegates Council, approved last year.
The city's proposal follows the state contract model, a five-year contract with a three-year pay freeze.
Roberts said she is outraged that the city wastes millions on contracting out while laying off municipal employees, including most recently 642 mostly low wage school workers. "We have been exploited to the end and are not going to take it," she said.
"Our workers need and deserve a raise," Roberts said. She said members have borne the burden of budget cuts. "They have gone nearly three years without a raise while the cost of everything is going up," she said.
"The members of DC 37 are the face of the 99 percent," said DC 37 Research and Negotiations Director Evelyn Seinfeld. DC 37 members are among the vast majority of Americans trapped in economic stagnation while an elite 1 percent have pocketed most of the income and wealth growth in recent decades.
Seinfeld pointed out that the cost of living has risen 6.8 percent since members' last pay increase, with energy and clothing costs up 18 percent and gas up 38 percent in the last year while MetroCards are up more than 30 percent since 2008. Nearly a third of renters pay 50 percent of their household income for rent, which in recent years has outpaced inflation.
As the city cuts its workforce, DC 37 members are working harder than ever. The increased productivity and the savings from the reduced payroll headcount can help fund a wage increase, Seinfeld said.
"We are in as bad financial shape as I have ever seen," Hanley said.
"Layoffs and attrition have reduced the city workforce by thousands, forcing our members to do more with less," Seinfeld said. "Productivity has remained high. We have provided the money for a raise through increased productivity for which we have not recieved any credit."
Seinfeld described the city's financial condition as a product of its own creation. The budget reflects the city's priorities, which includes corporate tax giveaways and contacting out to the private sector even if it costs more, Seinfeld said.
Roberts charged that members are being hurt by the massive fraud by crooked contractors as the city exercises inadequate oversight.
"The city has the money," she said. "It's just misused."
The economic agreement covers 100,000 workers at city agencies, the Health and Hospitals Corp., libraries and cultural institutions and the Housing Authority.
The economic agreement does not directly cover prevailing-rate workers, Emergency Medical Service workers, or members at the Bridge and Tunnel Authority, NYC Transit, the City University of New York and the School Construction Authority. While the economic agreement technically does not include these workers, it typically serves as the starting point (the "pattern") in the negotiations for their contracts.
— Public Employee Press, Dec. 2011-Jan. 2012