Teachers, Nurses and Professors Deserve Contracts First, Union Rep Says
CIVIC CENTER — Unions representing city teachers, nurses and college professors should be the first on the list for contract renewals with City Hall since they've gone the longest without them, labor leaders said.
The United Federation of Teachers, the New York State Nurses Association and the Professional Staff Congress missed out on the last round of negotiations and have been toiling without a contract since theirs expired in 2009 and 2010, said Harry Nespoli, the head of the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group representing the city’s public sector unions.
Nespoli said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office should “make them whole” as quickly as possible before moving on to the rest of the outstanding union contracts and working out healthcare costs for all unions.
“They have to make those contracts equal to the other contracts so we can come to an agreement on health and save the people of New York City some money,” Nespoli said.
The United Federation of Teachers, which represents approximately 200,000 members, including 75,000 teachers, has been without a contract since 2009, while 8,000 city nurses in the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) have been without a contract since the beginning of 2010.
The UFT is in the midst of a state-ordered fact-finding process after negotiations broke down between the city and teachers last year. The results of the process could become the outlines for a framework for a contract, experts said.
UFT officials declined to comment.
Meanwhile, NYSNA is nearing the end of binding arbitration talks, even as de Blasio’s office has approached them about engaging in mediated discussions, according to a union source.
The Professional Staff Congress, which represents 25,000 faculty and professional staff at CUNY, has been without a contract since late 2010.
Other city workers have been operating under contracts that expired more recently, labor leaders said.
“We believe our members are entitled to a retroactive increase from the previous round of bargaining,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, in a statement.
A number of reports suggest that the UFT is being presented with a contract that would run through 2018 and extend retroactively back to 2009. It’s estimated the back pay on the previous years could cost the city as much as $3.5 billion.
Arthur Schwartz, a labor lawyer who has worked on behalf of city unions in the past, said he believed the UFT would be the first union to agree to a new contract.
“The teachers have to get resolved,” he said. “They’re going first.”
Nespoli said the UFT and other unions that have been waiting more than five years for an agreement are valid candidates for an extended contract that addresses retroactive pay concerns. Still, he said their contracts shouldn’t necessarily become the basis for pattern bargaining with the other unions.
“I think each individual union will negotiate their contract,” he said. “The city has money. We can’t carry the burden of what this last administration has created. We’ll help out. There’s no doubt we’ll help out, but they’ll have to ante up also.”
The mayor has regularly described the labor negotiations as unprecedented in their scope and accused the previous administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of negligence for allowing all of the city’s labor contracts to run out.
Once the longest outstanding contracts are cleared, Nespoli said the next step is tackling the remaining contracts as well as the issue of health care costs.
On health care, he said he's opposed to changes that would amount to increased costs for members, or reduced coverage.
“If anybody’s looking to take down the quality of health we have now it’s not going to happen,” said Nespoli. “We’re paying a lot of money right now for copay and if the member wants a better coverage, they pay for it.”
Nespoli said he and other union leaders are looking at healthcare models such as member-funded health care clinics like the ones run by the Hotel Trades Council, as well as wellness and preventative programs.
“We’re looking at options that don't shift the cost to workers, but improve quality and reduces costs,” said Arthur Cheliotes, head of Communication Workers Local 1180.
Nespoli reiterated that while discussions between the city and the Municipal Labor Committee, which is responsible for negotiating healthcare costs for city unions, are already underway and will continue, the city can't lose sight of its primary focus.
“What they should do is clear out the [long-term] expired [contracts], get them done. Then we can complete the health savings,” he said.