An arbitrator's ruling that permits the de Blasio administration to defer until next July payment of half the $900 million it was scheduled to give members of the United Federation of Teachers in back wages this month, conditioned on a no-layoff guarantee until then, has spurred a flurry of bargaining with other city unions aimed at producing similar short-term budget relief.
Some union leaders who would have to provide savings through different sources than the one available to the UFT, however, are reluctant to do it on the terms being sought by the city, according to Harry Nespoli, chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, who in his role as president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association is among those with reservations.
The Office of Labor Relations is likely to seek similar deferrals from unions including the New York State Nurses Association and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators that, like the UFT, negotiated contracts beginning in 2014 that carried huge back-pay obligations because those unions had been denied two 4-percent raises then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg had negotiated by 2008 covering 60 percent of the city workforce.
Mayor's Radical Pivot
Shortly after he gained re-election to a third term in November 2009, Mr. Bloomberg announced that a sharp downturn in the city's fiscal condition caused by the 2008 national recession made it impossible for him to adhere to the bargaining pattern he had established with unions ranging from District Council 37 to what was then called the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. He also said the city would be unable to maintain a four-decade-old tradition of offering full retroactivity on raises negotiated after a union contract had expired.
His pivot on both those issues was greeted with outrage by the unions. As recently as in a 2008 arbitration involving the PBA, Mr. Bloomberg had rebutted that union's demand for raises exceeding the citywide pattern by arguing that this would undermine labor stability. And the city's decision beginning under Mayor John Lindsay to offer full retroactivity on wage increases ended the days when failing to reach a new deal by the time the existing one expired often led to a strike.
By the time in 2011 that the then-Mayor attempted to restart negotiations, the unions had collectively decided to wait until he left office at the end of 2013 to move forward on bargaining. The result was that the UFT deal on May 1, 2014 was reached 54 months after its old contract had expired, with similar huge gaps for the CSA and NYSNA when they later came to terms.
The back pay that accumulated—some Teachers were entitled to more than $50,000—was so great that, to avoid an undue budget burden, the city persuaded the three unions to agree to have payments stretched out through the end of the decade, with 75 percent of the retroactive UFT money to be delayed until the last month of its record-length nine-year contract and beyond.
Details of UFT Award
The $900 million that its members were due to receive Oct. 16 was split in half under arbitrator Martin Scheinman's award seven days earlier. Half that money will be distributed to eligible members by Oct. 31, with the remainder to be reflected in their second monthly paycheck next July. Besides getting a no-layoff guarantee through the end of the school year covering those hired after May 1, 2014 and therefore ineligible for back pay, as well as those still receiving it, the award mandated that a 3-percent pay raise negotiated in late 2018 be implemented on schedule next May 14.
Neither CSA President Mark Cannizzaro nor his counterpart at NYSNA, Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, returned calls about whether they were inclined to negotiate similar deferrals. The city's payment to NYSNA of back wages is due in January, and CSA members are scheduled to receive their retro money the following month.
For most municipal unions, other sources would have to be tapped to provide savings to the city, since their members were not waiting on large retroactive checks for wages owed for more than a decade.
DC 37, like the UFT, negotiated its last contract in 2018, but the final raise under its pact was implemented last October. It is awaiting additional city payments to its health-and-welfare and education funds, however, which could be delayed as its contribution to the savings sought by the Mayor.
Lower Pay a Complication
A potential dilemma faced by DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido was that the lower average salaries received by his members—particularly in the union's three largest locals, representing school employees, clerical workers and 9/11 operators, and hospital aides—meant if he was unable to satisfy the city's demand for savings through delays in payments to his benefit funds, more layoffs would be needed than for other unions.
Mr. Nespoli has a 3-percent raise due for his members in January. He said in an Oct. 16 phone interview that the city had mentioned that raise as a possible source of savings.
But, he said, "You can't expect people to turn around and give up wages that they earned. You can't expect them to say forget about it."
Asked whether he would consider a delay in payment, he didn't respond directly, instead saying, "I know the shape the city's in and I'm not looking to squeeze the city any more than it's already being squeezed by the Federal Government and also the state."
COBA Silent, LBA Waiting
Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio, who did not respond to a request for comment, has several potential bargaining chips. One is a 3-percent raise due next June 1, and the other two, also to take effect on that date, involve increases in longevity benefits: one worth $365 for all Correction Officers with at least five years' service, the other of $1,277 for those with at least 20 years on the job.
Lieutenants Benevolent Association President Louis Turco said Oct. 14, "No one's reached out to me on anything," adding he would listen to any proposal made by Labor Commissioner Renee Campion.
His members are scheduled to receive a 3-percent raise Nov. 1, as well as a $1,355 differential payable on that date.
Ms. Campion declined comment on the multiple negotiations in which she's embroiled.
Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd said, "I have nothing to defer," because his members have already received the raises called for under a contract that expires at the end of the year. The state, which employs his members who work at the Javits Center, deferred a 2-percent raise that was due them because the Javits Center had no money to fund it, under a contract that remains in effect for another three years.
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