| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Feb 19 New York City has begun
preliminary talks with labor unions as it aims to break the
deadlock in a years-old pay dispute that city workers say has
left them owed up to $8 billion.
A spokesman for the mayor's office said on Wednesday city
negotiators had contacted some unions for preliminary
discussions but said full negotiations had yet to start.
"Preliminary talks have just begun so it's not full bore
across the board; there's some preliminary conversations that
have begun with certain unions but not all," said the spokesman.
He did not say which unions were involved.
New York City's top financial watchdog urged the city on
Wednesday to resolve contract disputes with its workers by the
end of the fiscal year on June 30, adding a settlement involving
payouts in future years could be an option open to Mayor Bill de
Blasio as he aims to soften the blow to the budget.
"It is critical that we resolve these contracts or we are on
our way to resolve these contracts by June 30," said city
Comptroller Scott Stringer. "Our municipal workers have waited
too long for a settlement and our taxpayers need to know the
true state of the city's fiscal situation."
All of New York's 300,000 unionized public workers are
without contracts after refusing to accept pay freezes imposed
by New York's previous mayor Michael Bloomberg. The demands from
unions for back pay as far back as 2009 could reach $7 billion
to $8 billion, or around 10 percent of the city budget,
according to multiple estimates.
Arthur Cheliotes, president of the Communications Workers of
America, which represents around 8,500 city workers, said he had
a meeting with Robert Linn, de Blasio's new director of labor
relations, on Feb. 11.
"He (Linn) indicated that he is getting the older contracts
that have been expired the longest dealt with, especially the
teachers and principals," said Cheliotes, who said the last
raises given to the city's CWA workers were in October 2009.
A spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers said
preliminary talks had begun with Linn but said proper
negotiations were still to get underway.
Someone with knowledge of those meetings said the atmosphere
was far different from the frosty relationship between the
teachers and the Bloomberg administration.
Last Thursday the city negotiated a contract with 200 police
officers in the Department of Environmental Protection for the
period from 2005 to 2008 in a package worth an average of
$53,000 to $55,000 per officer, according to a spokesman for the
Law Enforcement Employers Benevolent Association (LEEBA).
Although a small group of workers compared to the mammoth
teacher and healthcare unions, the settlement indicates a
willingness on the part of the de Blasio to meet at least part
of workers' demands. Robert Linn attended the meeting.
De Blasio, the city's first Democratic mayor in two decades,
is more sympathetic to labor unions than his predecessor. But
the size of the unsettled contracts could be a threat to his
signature initiatives, including funding universal preschool for
De Blasio has previously said the city cannot afford to meet
all union demands but has not closed the door to some
retroactive pay increases.
The package agreed with LEEBA included retroactive pay
increases of 4 percent to 5 percent for the three years of the
contract. The payment will be made in three installments over
the next three years, according to a LEEBA spokesman.
De Blasio has said that the settlement with LEEBA would not
be precedent-setting for negotiations with more than 150 other
bargaining units. But it may indicate the administration's
willingness to push payments into future years, a strategy the
Bloomberg administration said broke city accounting rules.
De Blasio presented his first executive budget last week
after taking office at the start of the year. Stringer said the
unresolved dispute was the biggest risk to the plan but
commended the mayor for setting aside $1 billion in the retiree
health benefits trust and $300 million in a reserve fund, money
that could potentially be used in a settlement, he said.