Teachers, TWU Ratify Their Contracts: We’re Next

by Fitz Reid, President, Local 768 DC 37 AFSCME AFL-CIO

In settling the Teachers’ contract, our newly-elected Mayor, Bill de Blasio, has come through on his campaign promise to give city workers retroactive pay for the last five years. I hope that this same pattern holds true for members of District Council 37 and Local 768. Hope usually doesn’t work so well – mobilization does. That’s why we have to organize to press our case for a raise and retro money right away. Our negotiators at DC 37 have begun talks with the de Blasio administration, and have a powerful case to make. It is up to every member of Local 768 to know and understand the case for a raise, and be prepared to advocate for it strongly and powerfully.

First, the City has the money for raises. Over the last four years, since our contract ended in March of 2010, Sister Lillian Roberts and District Council 37 has shown where the money is located that could and should be used to pay workers. It’s in a $10 billion contracting-out budget, huge corporate tax giveaways, and failure to collect taxes which are owed to the City. The CityTime scandal was the worst example of destructive contracting-out in New York City history. DC 37 was among the first organizations to raise the alarm about CityTime. Tough investigative reporting by Juan Gonzales and then the involvement of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara resulted in the recoupment of over $540 million of the $700 million that was spent on the overpriced contractor that operated essentially without oversight.

After the scandal came to light, DC 37 successfully insisted that the City use more of its in-house information technology professionals and stop giving away the store to well-connected outside firms.

Just last week, Mayor de Blasio wisely put the brakes on a $2 billion roll-out of a Citywide emergency 911 system that is not working and — again — has taken precious precious tax dollars and handed them over to the private sector for little results.

Among the shocking corporate giveaways is a permanent subsidy of $17 million per year to Madison Square Garden, owned by the hugely profitable Cablevision and its head Jim Dolan. The City Council wants that tax-giveaway revoked.

The MSG tax giveaway is just one small chapter in the story of how the “one percent” and the corporations they control have been able to game the system to strip government of tax revenue. General Electric, according to the New York Times, paid no taxes at all in 2010. In a regulatory filing in 2012, GE said that it kept $108 Billion in profits overseas — where it doesn’t have to pay U.S. taxes on that income.
Even closer to home, the country’s most profitable investment bank,
Goldman Sachs, owns a tower which literally overshadows the DC 37 building. Goldman Sachs, which reported $8 billion in profits last year on revenues of $34 billion, paid a tax rate of just 1%.

The failure to collect taxes was one way in which former Mayor Mike Bloomberg showed his favoritism to corporate interests. DC 37 identified that Across the City, hundreds of properties are failing to pay their fare share, often taking over land from non-profits like churches and then fraudulently remaining exempt. Not to mention many thousands of dollars in revenue from billboards which are simply not collected by the Department of Finance. Business should not get a free ride: they make money because of City services that we provide, and should pay their fare share in taxes.

Mayor de Blasio ran on the theme of fighting inequality – the “tale of two cities.” He recognizes that City workers are in danger of becoming “have-nots,” and that we have a record of steady increases in productivity, doing more with less even as headcounts go down. (See chart.) Mayor Bloomberg cut staff to the bone, and then cut more. A good example in our own ranks was the City’s decision to fire dozens of Pest Control Aides back in 2011. These men and women kept rat infestations down, and now the DOHMH must hire more workers to deal with the dramatic increases in rodents throughout the City. I believe that the new Mayor understands the value of public employees and knows that turning services over to the private sector encourages shoddy, minimum-wage work, and unreliable service.

Negotiations between DC 37 and the de Blasio administration have already produced some good results. An agreement on health benefits has taken increases in health care premiums off the table. Savings will be found, but our costs will not go up. Layoffs are off the table. And the salary review process, which was meant to boost the wages of hard to fill titles, or titles which are dramatically underpaid, is still alive. (See chart.) I am advocating for many Local 768 titles which do not make salaries sufficient to build careers in City service.

As bargaining begins, I am urging DC 37 and the City to put their heads together to work out creative additions to a wage package which will likely be modeled after the Teachers’ contract. Inequities must also be addressed, such as the lack of disciplinary rights for provisionals in HHC, protection of field workers who need better uniforms, equipment, and transportation, and persistent understaffing in many work locations. The City should also be thinking about items like housing subsidies for City workers, better promotional and educational opportunities, alternate work schedules, and the sharing of sick-leave banks, end to unfair discipline and biases in promotion.

The War on Workers
As our members who have attended General Membership meetings well understand, a war on workers has been underway for over 35 years, since President Ronald Reagan fired the nation’s air traffic controllers in 1981. In that time, union membership has dropped dramatically as right-wing Republicans and many Democrats have made political hay about how supposedly greedy and anti-business unions are. The attacks on unions have been a cover for massive impoverishment of the formerly middle class, who have seen their wages drop steadily. Thousands of people work in the union-busting industry, spreading lies about what unions are about and employing a well-crafted arsenal of dirty tricks to do them in.

Union busters, funded by businesses and groups such as the Koch Brothers and ALEC who want to destroy unions, have been greatly aided by a series of court decisions in many states and at the federal level that have also weakened unions. Here in New York State, the courts have held that the management of the Health and Hospitals Corporation does not have to consider the union’s arguments on appropriate staffing in the health care system. They can do what they want. At the Supreme Court, a case entitled Harris v. Quinn is now being argued, which could end the right of public employee unions to receive dues from members via check deductions taken out by the employer. This could be a mortal blow to many, if not all, public sector unions.

The solution to pushing back against this wave of attacks is one simple word: mobilization. Because we have a union, health care workers have a voice. We have the ear of politicians. We do critically important work every day. We have to fight back against a barrage of criticism and take the fight to those who argue that City funds should not go to City workers. There will be actions and the opportunity to protest meaningfully and testify in the next few weeks, as our contract is being negotiated. I ask that you be ready to join me on the front line as we make our case for better wages and benefits and to regain some of our lost power and prestige.

Every member of Local 768 knows that we are grossly underpaid and overworked, compared to others in similar jobs and also compared to other civil servants. Our wages start low and remain low for years. We don’t have the step pay progressions that many others have, such as uniformed workers, teachers, state and transit workers. Our jobs are no less important. It’s time to stand up for them. I believe that, with a new Mayor and progressive Council Members who understands our situation, we can win a better deal – but only if we stand together and mobilize until the job is done.

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