Working Without Labor Contracts, City Unions to Rally for Back Pay Raises
NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been warning that his successor could face the perfect storm of a fiscal crisis next year as city unions demand retroactive pay hikes — but labor leaders and their members will gather Wednesday afternoon to dispute that forecast.
Unions for the city's nearly 300,000 municipal workers, including teachers, firefighters and police officers, have planned a rally at City Hall to highlight that nearly all of them have been working without contracts for the last few years and that the city has the cash surplus to give them back raises.
"It's about the mayor trying to create this fictional story," city teachers union president Michael Mulgrew told DNAinfo.com. "The city is running at multi-billion-dollar surplus. At this moment, there is $2.5 billion in surplus, and it's not even the end of the fiscal year."
The United Federation of Teachers has worked without a contract since 2009 — one of the longest stints among unions. Mulgrew is seeking retroactive raises that are on par with the pay hikes Bloomberg agreed to with other unions in recent labor pacts. When including the principals union, the UFT puts the back-pay bill at roughly $1.67 billion.
Bloomberg has warned that the city faces a fiscal cliff next year if it meets the demands of all the unions. He claims the cost could be as much as $7.8 billion and could lead to austere cuts, tax hikes and layoffs. That's because the city used up its surplus cash to plug shortfalls in the budget the last few years, he says.
The mayor has said he's open to inking new contracts before he leaves office on Jan. 1 — but he wants a deal that trims swelling pension and healthcare costs.
In April Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway told the Citizens Budge Commission that the administration was willing to come to the negotiating table, but retroactive raises were out of the question and workers would have to swallow higher healthcare premiums.
Unions claim that in recent years, Bloomberg has cried wolf in his budget proposals, projecting a deficit but then winding up with a billion-dollar surpluses by the end of the year.
They cite the mayor's initial projection of a $4.85 billion deficit for the current fiscal year. Current figures now put that budget at a $2.2 billion surplus.
Most of the mayoral candidates have remained mum about their plans if they must negotiate contracts. Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson's campaigns did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokeswoman for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said he doesn't believe in negotiating via press release.
"He'll keep everything on the table, and he'll sit down with labor leaders in good faith to hammer out an agreement," the spokeswoman said.
City Comptroller and mayoral hopeful John Liu testified before the City Council in March about the impending fiscal crisis, and made recommendations on how Bloomberg could save cash for labor contracts, including renegotiating the leasing terms of certain city property and recouping money from contractors who overbilled.
Mulgrew said he's still actively seeking a deal with the lame-duck mayor.
"I''m trying to negotiate, but to get to a real deal that's fair to everyone, you need a truthful and willing partner," Mulgrew said.
When asked if Bloomberg was that partner, the union boss said, "At this point I see no evidence. But I'm a teacher. I keep hope alive."