June 4, 2004
By Mark Daly
Police and fire union leaders have joined the United Federation of Teachers to organize what is expected to be a massive contract rally outside City Hall next week.
The June 8 rally is scheduled to take place from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
The rare uniting of the city’s Teachers with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighter’s Association follows by seven weeks the settlement of a contract between Mayor Bloomberg and District Council 37 that sets an ominous precedent for the other unions.
Terms Don’t Suit Them
In return for a guarantee of 5 percent in wage increases over the three-year life of the deal, DC 37 agreed to cut the starting pay of the city’s future civilian workers and accept a $1,000 bonus instead of a raise in the contract’s first year.
It’s a proposal that Teachers, Police Officers and Firefighters won’t stand for, leaders of their unions say, after years of efforts to raise the pay scale for their jobs to match the value of their contributions to the city’s livelihood – not to mention the starting salaries for cops and Teachers in the suburbs.
“Here you have three essential services, all saying to the Mayor that we need to be treated fairly,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten, the first leader to call the rally.
Mayor Bloomberg, pointing to the city’s shaky finances, has insisted that gains in any union’s wages this year need be paid for by greater productivity, such as a relaxing of work rules for Teachers, different tour schedules for cops and firefighters, or reductions in other benefits.
Each of the unions has responded by saying a retention crisis in their respective ranks means Mr. Bloomberg should provide a wage increase above and beyond what could be generated through productivity. His failure to do so, Ms. Weingarten said, drive the unions together in their fight.
The conflict has also pushed the PBA and UFT beyond the bargaining table. The unions have each had an impasse declared in their talks, and mediators have been appointed to revive negotiations with the city. UFA President Stephen J. Cassidy, while expressing guarded optimism about his own talks, has begun educating his members about the early steps of the arbitration process.
‘Not About DC 37’
Following the announcement of the DC 37 deal, some city union leaders grumbled that an earlier show of unity, in the streets or at the bargaining table, might have averted such a development. The rally’s organizers, however, are remaining publicly diplomatic.
“This is not about DC 37,” said Mr. Weingarten, who doubles as leader of the Municipal Labor Committee. “They have a right to settle a contract that meets the needs of their members. That’s not the issue.
The point, Ms. Weingarten continued, is the obstacle of pattern bargaining itself, in which “the city picks somebody it wants to make a deal with. You can’t impose terms in places where there are other unions with other needs.”
The workers who provide “critical services” to the city “deserve to be compensated fairly and differently than everyone else,” said Mr. Cassidy. “How they choose to pay clerks who never risk their lives is one thing. How they pay firefighters is another.”
In a message to his members about the rally, PBA President Patrick J. Lynch ignored the DC 37 issue and faulted the city for failing to offer a straight wage increase. “While we continue to sweat blood for the city, the city continues to disrespect us at the bargaining table,’ he said.
For all three unions, the pay issue is “a matter of safety and a matter of the health of the city,” added PBA spokesman Al O’Leary.
In order for the city to build its financial strength, he explained, “You’re going to need well-educated young people and you need to ensure their safety.”