Mayor de Blasio Aug. 12 said his administration was preparing the administrative process to lay off up to 22,000 city workers by Oct. 1 unless significant Federal aid and/or union concessions allowed him to close a $9-billion budget gap without such a drastic step.
Asked during his daily press briefing whether this was "fear-mongering" after the state turned down his request to authorize greater borrowing capacity, he replied, "We all hoped and prayed there would be a [Federal] stimulus. That appears dead now. We are going to Albany to ask for appropriate long-term borrowing capacity that would stave off the layoffs. If we don't have that, we are going to keep working with labor looking for every solution, every kind of savings."
Mum on Redoing Pacts
His administration is looking for a billion dollars in savings from the unions, but he sidestepped a question about whether he would ask the unions to forsake or delay previously agreed-to raises. "Our job is to find savings," the Mayor said. "I wouldn't call it renegotiating contracts. That sounds much broader."
When pressed if every city agency might be hit by the layoffs, including the NYPD, he again ducked, saying, "Every agency will experience cuts. Every single agency will have to save a lot of money, and generally that will take the form of layoffs."
Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, the city's second-largest union, who co-chairs of the Municipal Labor Committee, said in a statement that "layoffs should be the absolute last resort."
"Throughout this pandemic city employees, our front-line heroes, have put their lives on the line to provide essential services," he wrote in a text message. "The threat of 22,000 layoffs is not a way to repay them for their heroic acts. We need the Federal government to step up and fund the front lines, we need the State to step up and allow the City to borrow, and we need the City to protect essential workers."
Gloria Middleton, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1180, which represents several thousand administrative managers and other white-collar titles, said she had been informed by the city's Office of Labor Relations that it sent city agencies the procedures for layoffs.
'Savings Without Layoffs'
"I was also informed by August 31st agencies will provide tentative lists pending negotiations with Unions on how we can help the City save monies without layoffs," Ms. Middleton wrote in an email. "This all depends on Federal government assistance to Cities and States. I have been around long enough where we, labor, worked with the City to avoid layoffs using furloughs, deferred wages, buyouts etc. I'm hoping we can all sit at the virtual table and do that again."
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement, "All levels of government need to come together in the coming months to see that New Yorkers continue to get the essential public services that the municipal workforce provides."
For months the MLC has been meeting with the de Blasio administration and pressed it to avert layoffs by offering early-retirement incentives to tens of thousands of civil servants who are a few years shy of qualifying for full pensions.
Legislation is also pending in Albany to facilitate early retirement for municipal, county, school board and civil servants with state agencies.
"This is only common sense," said Joseph Colangelo, president of Service Employees International Union Local 246, which represents city mechanics. "Offer the early retirement to the older workers who are most at risk from COVID and spare the younger civil servants just starting out who have small children."
Too Much Contracting-Out?
He also suggested the de Blasio administration re-evaluate its millions of dollars in outside contracts.
"It is very unfortunate that this City, the economic engine of this country, is now targeting for layoffs the very same civil servants who first faced down this pandemic and the Federal Government is sitting on their hands," he said. "We lost three members alone and 273 citywide, and that doesn't include over 100 from New York City Transit."
Joe Puleo, president of DC 37's Local 983, which represents blue-collar workers from Tow Truck Operators to Urban Park Rangers, said during a phone interview that he had been "inundated" with phone calls from members looking for an update on a retirement incentive.
"There is a misconception that what's being talked about is a 'buy-out,' but in reality, it would take the form of an early retirement incentive as a way to avoid layoffs," he said. "There are thousands and thousands of civil servants like me who hired on at the end of the Koch years and are just a few years shy of retirement, and a lot of them have pre-existing conditions like diabetes and heart disease."
On Aug. 12, Mr. Puleo and his local organized a lobby day in Albany to press the city's case for the State Legislature to permit the city to borrow additional funds to avoid layoffs.
At the end of June, as the city was concluding a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, the Mayor's $5-billion borrowing plan failed to get traction in Albany.
"In government, as in life, the question is how are you going to pay back and do you need to borrow that much?" a skeptical Governor Cuomo asked on NY1.
There was even pushback from one progressive State Senator. A day before Mr. Cuomo's remarks, Sen. Andrew Gounardes said in a statement that the city was "in a deep financial hole because of the impact of COVID-19...But let's be real: the City's budget has grown by $20 billion over six years and yet we still can't afford to fully fund CUNY, hire full-time social workers and guidance counselors for every school, keep our parks and streets clean, and pay for other essential services. Something doesn't add up."
Mr. Gounardes said the administration should "do more to trim the fat" in city agencies and it was "time to build a city that invests in people—not tax breaks for luxury condo buildings, not pet projects of politicians, and not protecting the wealthiest corporations' bottom lines."
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