On the job

Nathaniel King, 42, a 19-year Sanitation Worker, on the job in Midtown in August. 


The Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association has sent its members for ratification a tentative contract deal that mixes elements of the 2018 agreements the city reached with District Council 37 and the United Federation of Teachers but uses a uniformed differential that speeds payment of the raises while extending the pact to improve fringe-benefit terms.

Should the roughly 6,600 members sign off on the terms, they would receive raises of 2.25 percent retroactive to Jan. 20, 2019, 2.5 percent as of Jan. 20, 2020, and 3 percent as of Jan. 20, 2021.There would be a $405 increase in the five-year longevity step, to $2,000, and a $705 upgrade in the 20-year step, to $5,000, that would both be retroactive to Jan. 20, 2019.

Other Gains 

On that date, what USA President Harry Nespoli called a "service credit" would also take effect, that depending on members' time in the job could go as high as $791. A $1-a-day increase in members' annuity funds would be retroactive to April 20, 2020, and the terminal-leave benefit, allowing members to cash in their accrued leave before leaving the payroll, thereby improving their pension allowances as of July 20, is included under the same terms that other uniformed unions accepted in a 2014 contract deal. He said members hadn't considered that a priority until this negotiation.

In order to offset the city's costs so that the deal was in line with the basic bargaining pattern established with both the two giant civilian-employee unions and the uniformed coalition that reached terms last Dec. 18, the SanWorker deal would run slightly more than 47 months, concluding Dec. 27, 2022. The coalition deals have had durations of between 36 and 39 months, while the UFT pact ran 43 months and the DC 37 one 44 months. 

Mr. Nespoli said in a May 14 phone interview that he and Labor Commissioner Renee Campion reached a verbal understanding in mid-March, but a short time later he was sidelined with the coronavirus. Combined with more than 400 Sanitation Department employees being stricken with the virus—most of them his own members, four of whom died—the focus on treatment and preventive steps delayed the formal agreement until recently, he said.

Also Changed His Outlook

Earlier this year, both the Captains' Endowment Association and the Lieutenants' Benevolent Association ratified pacts in which they obtained added differentials through the same unit-bargaining process that produced key fringe-benefit gains under the SanWorkers' tentative pact. The Correction Officers' Benevolent Association's leadership recently agreed to similar terms that are awaiting approval, first from union delegates and ultimately the rank and file.

The Uniformed Fire Officers Association and the Sanitation Chiefs Association have reportedly ratified deals covering the wage increases without completing their unit talks. Their decisions not to wait to conclude unit agreements before seeking ratification of the wage hikes, which total 7.95 percent, seemed based on what Mr. Nespoli described as an attempt to speed raise payments to members due to the changed economic outlook created by the impact of COVID-19.

Until the disease began taking its toll not only in human life and widespread illnesses affecting uniformed workers but on the city's economy, he said he was wrestling with whether the basic wage hikes were sufficient. The sizable impact the virus has had on both the city's budget and that of the state, Mr. Nespoli said, led him to conclude that ensuring that the three raises were paid at the start of the contract years, rather than having delays in implementation of the latter two hikes, as DC 37 and the UFT had agreed to in the summer and fall of 2018, was the best choice for his members.

'No Point Wasting Time'

With the city likely to be severely strapped financially, although some relief could be coming in the next Federal stimulus package, any hopes he had of doing better than the existing pay pattern had vanished, he said, and "I didn't want to waste time negotiating for something that's not there." 

He was able to do that by using the 1-percent "uniformed differential" on contract settlements that the de Blasio administration has revived, after it was applied sporadically under the previous three Mayors, to cover some of the added costs.

A week earlier, COBA President Elias Husamudeen said the increased economic urgency expressed by some of his members had persuaded him to retool a deal his rank and file rejected in late March to move more money into the union's fund that covers prescription drugs while relinquishing a similar amount that was intended to launch an education program for members.

Mr. Nespoli said that for the first time he opted to allow members to vote electronically as well as by mail ballot. Global Election Services will tally the returns May 28.

Concern About Attrition 

The SanWorker union leader said one budgetary concern he already had was the de Blasio administration's decision to postpone appointing more Sanitation Workers to take the place of those who are retiring. As members anticipate raises from the tentative pact being implemented and boosting their potential pension allowances, he said they were preparing to "run out the door."

If the roughly 500 retirements he said will occur are not compensated for by additional hiring, it will reduce the size of his membership to 6,100, which he said was 200 short of what would be needed this winter for snow removal if severe storms hit.     

He said he was optimistic that New York City and State would get budget relief through a Federal stimulus bill now under discussion, explaining, "New York was the center of the virus."      

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