Quiet Labor Deal Gave $3M in Back Pay to Elevator Workers

By Colby Hamilton on April 7, 2014 3:44pm 

 Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration declined to try and block a prevailing wage decision by Comptroller John Liu's office that gave millions in retro wages to 443 elevator workers in 2013.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration declined to try and block a prevailing wage decision by Comptroller John Liu's office that gave millions in retro wages to 443 elevator workers in 2013.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

CIVIC CENTER — A labor agreement at the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration granted retroactive raises to hundreds of city elevator workers, costing the city an estimated $3 million in back pay, DNAinfo has learned.

Under the terms of the September 2013 agreement, 443 workers who are part of Local 237 received raises of as much as 34 percent — retroactive to 2008 — for a total cost of $3 million, according to the union and the city's Office of Management and Budget.

That's in addition to the estimated $1 million per year that the decision will add to elevator workers' pay each year going forward, according to those familiar with the decision.

The $3 million in retro pay will be paid from current funds while the $1 million bump will be reflected in the budget proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio for the upcoming fiscal year, OMB officials said.

News of the win for the elevator workers comes as de Blasio’s office continues talks with all of the city’s labor unions to settle outstanding contracts.

According to the office of current Comptroller Scott Stringer, there are 39 labor unions out of 152 that are eligible for a determination on receiving a prevailing wage. But the comptroller doesn't plan to move forward on potentially awarding retroactive pay based on the prevailing wage to any other unions without de Blasio's blessing, officials in the comptroller's office said.

"We wouldn’t move forward on anything without a good-faith negotiation by the administration first," according to a spokeswoman from the comptroller's office.

The prevailing wage is an amount set by the comptroller's office that seeks to provide pay parity between municipal workers and private contractors for doing the same job. The deal struck by Liu's office with Local 237 is not the same thing as a contract, but it is binding.

The elevator workers agreement — which came years after labor talks broke down in 2008 with the Bloomberg administration — was made by then-Comptroller John Liu, who had been working to bring city unions up to the prevailing wage to keep them competitive with private worker salaries.

Local 237 initially approached Liu's predecessor, William Thompson, in 2008, and asked to grant the workers the prevailing wage, documents provided by the comptroller’s office show.

After years of continued yet unsuccessful contract negotiations, Comptroller John Liu signed off on a decision in 2012 to retroactively give 218 elevator mechanics a 26 percent raise, 196 elevator helpers a 13 percent raise and 29 supervisor elevator mechanics a 34 percent raise for work done from 2008 to 2012.

While the Bloomberg administration had previously fought Liu's prevailing wage decisions, they allowed the comptroller’s final ruling in favor of the mechanical workers, which came down in September of last year, to go unappealed before leaving office.

“This is the first time they ever didn’t appeal a one of these to the court,” Arthur Schwartz, a labor lawyer who worked on the case, said.

Even if the city had opted to challenge the retro raises, Schwartz said history suggested the comptroller’s wage bump would have stood.

“Their record is more dismal than the Mets,” he said.

A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said while the city appealed prevailing wage rulings in the past, they did not request a review of the elevator mechanics decision because prevailing wage decisions are "within the purview of the Comptroller's office."

While Local 237 is technically still operating without a contract, under the terms of the agreement they will continue to recieve the prevailing wage going forward, according to those familiar with the decision.

Greg Floyd, president of Local 237, declined to discuss the payment amounts, but said in a statement, “The Comptroller made the determination and we believe it was fair.”

Floyd added that he's still working to get parity for the other workers represented by 237 who operate without a contract, saying "setting the prevailing wage is part of the process."

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