Mayor de Blasio warned June 24 that without $1 billion in concessions from city unions, he would have no choice but to lay off or furlough 22,000 workers. Top union officials, however, reacted angrily to his announcement, saying they got virtually no notice before he revealed that worst-case scenario.
"Here is a way to think about it—for every hundred-million dollars in the city budget, that's about 2,200 city employees on average," he said. "To close a $1-billion gap would mean laying off 22,000 city employees, which is a staggering number."
Unions: Hurting Morale
Union leaders, noting that the job cuts would not come until the fall, accused the Mayor of prematurely stirring fear among their members without first consulting them, and said it would have a negative effect on morale.
Municipal Labor Committee Chairman Harry Nespoli, who is talking with city officials about possible savings, said in a phone interview the following morning that he wasn't notified of the doomsday warning until an hour before Mr. de Blasio issued it during his morning briefing of the media.
"I'm gonna say it nice: to me it's very bad planning," said Mr. Nespoli, who is also president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association.
He said the late notice he received about the threat meant that in many cases, "I couldn't get word to the other unions," adding that many rank-and-file workers were shaken by the announcement.
"We need help from Washington," Mr. Nespoli acknowledged. Referring to President Trump, he added, "This guy in Washington does not like New York or the people of New York. He's doing nothing to help us."
Creates Fear Prematurely
But he questioned what the Mayor hoped to accomplish in accentuating a potential need for layoffs that wouldn't take effect for months, particularly at a time when the unions were already negotiating on possible relief for the city.
Noting that he had been laid off as a Sanitation Worker during the fiscal crisis 45 years ago, soon after he bought a house, Mr. Nespoli said, "If you're a worker and you're hearing about layoffs, what's your incentive to come to work and continue to work hard the way you have been all during this virus? Why do you want people thinking about layoffs? When that's on your mind, you have a hesitancy that you're going to come into work and hear your name called."
He continued, "When I got laid off, I saw it on the [Sanitation Department] teletype. It kinda rips the guts out of you."
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew was also sharply critical of the way Mr. de Blasio presented the issue.
Not Exactly Gratitude
He said in a statement, "There's a 'thank you for your service' during the pandemic, a layoff notice for thousands of city workers who created an unparalleled virtual education program, staffed the clinics, drove the ambulances and kept other city services going."
The Mayor and the City Council have just a few days before the July 1 deadline to reach a budget for the coming fiscal year, and the lack of imminent relief from Washington or approval from the state for the city to borrow money for the short term added to the sense of urgency.
Mr. de Blasio, claiming that notwithstanding the layoffs of 50,000 workers in the early days of the 1975 fiscal crisis, this was the "greatest economic crisis this city has known in almost 90 years," repeated his statement of several weeks ago that the loss of revenue caused by the effects of the coronavirus here was now at "minimum" $9 billion. "And, unfortunately, there is the possibility it could end up being much more than that," he added.
"That means we have to turn to very, very difficult choices," he said. "So, if we can find a billion dollars in savings from the labor movement together, that is the ideal."
The Mayor said the city's economic distress was not a short-term issue.
'A Sober Situation'
"The following fiscal year, Fiscal '22, we're talking about a $5-billion deficit; right this minute for the following fiscal year and no way to cover that," he said. "Because we obviously do not have reserves to put into play anymore. So this is a really sober situation, and it's time for everyone to sort of look it in the eye."
Bob Croghan, chairman of the Organization of Staff Analysts and a survivor of the 1975 fiscal crisis, welcomed the Mayor's effort at engagement, despite his colleagues' criticism of how he did so.
"I am rather pleased the Mayor is reaching out to the unions on this," he said the day after the announcement. "Back in 1975, when Mayor Abe Beame reached out to the unions, we were able to have a great deal of input on how to deal with a disastrous problem. We certainly were not able to resolve the problem without distress for the city workforce and the public, but each bit of cooperation led to a better handling of the situation."
In February, before the pandemic took hold, Mr. de Blasio was seeking an increase in city spending to $95 billion for the coming year, before slicing $6 billion of his proposed budget in mid-spring. "Now we have to take it down again to an $87-billion budget, he explained. "So, as we lose revenue, we have to keep moving with that reality."
Besides the loss of tax revenue and spending on entertainment that no longer was permitted during the shutdown caused by the virus, the city's costs rose dramatically in dealing with tens of thousands of deaths and many more people who had to be hospitalized. It also covered first-responder overtime that skyrocketed due to a mix of a record of 911 medical calls and the need for employees who remained healthy to work added shifts because their colleagues were sidelined for weeks at a time.
For several weeks, there have been discussions in Albany on several proposals to offer early-retirement incentives for employees of state and local governments. But the Legislature is not currently in session, and it is unlikely to return for at least three weeks.
"New York is facing economic devastation not seen since the Great Depression," State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said in April. "New York and other hard-hit states need the Federal Government to step up and provide assistance, or the state will have to take draconian actions to balance its budget."
But a stimulus bill championed by Democrats in Washington, D.C. has been bottled up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who expressed an unwillingness to provide "blue-state bailouts," and his rhetoric has been echoed by Mr. Trump.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.