NY City's new labor official vows respectful stance with unions

NEW YORK Tue Dec 31, 2013 4:27pm EST

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NEW YORK Dec 31 (Reuters) - New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio on Tuesday named a new city labor director who immediately vowed to take a sympathetic stance toward public workers when the nation's biggest city renegotiates expired contracts with its workforce.

Bob Linn, the new director of labor relations, pointedly weighed in on a national debate that has raged from New Jersey to Wisconsin over how teachers, firefighters and other public workers should be compensated.

While it has become fashionable to attack public workers, "you will never hear that from any of us," he said.

Public-employee unions in New York are demanding up to $8 billion in retroactive pay increases as part of new contracts that outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg has left for de Blasio, a liberal Democrat who takes office on Wednesday.

Bloomberg and unions let the previous contracts run out between 2009 and 2012 without much effort to reach a new deal, allowing Bloomberg to avoid open strife with labor and allowing the unions to wait for a more sympathetic negotiating partner.

The Bloomberg administration estimates retroactive pay increases for public sector unions could cost the city $4 billion to $8 billion, and also forecasts a budget gap of $2.2 billion next year.

Linn, a veteran arbitrator of labor disputes, was one of four new appointments announced by de Blasio just hours before he takes office.

De Blasio repeatedly evoked his campaign message that New York has become a "tale of two cities" - one rich, one poor - and that confronting economic inequality would be a core priority for his administration.

He also named the city's next transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, saying he sees the sector as "another way to confront economic inequality." Trottenberg was a top official at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Trottenberg's tenure is likely to be judged at least in part by her approach to a polarizing issue during the Bloomberg years: the creation of miles of new bike lanes. While the bike lanes have been applauded by cycling advocates, others say they snarl traffic and disrupt quiet neighborhoods.

De Blasio, who has faulted Bloomberg for putting wealthy New Yorkers ahead of those struggling in an ever-more-expensive city, also announced that two veterans of Bloomberg's administration will stay on.

Kyle Kimball will continue as head of the Economic Development Corporation while Gilbert Taylor, currently deputy commissioner at the administration for children's services, will be the city's next commissioner of homeless services.

De Blasio also managed to avoid a show-down with the media on Tuesday night. A midnight swearing-in ceremony at his Brooklyn home was originally closed to the press, but after several news organizations protested, de Blasio said his office would work out an accommodation. (Additional reporting by Ed Krudy; editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Leslie Adler)

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