Heads up to mayoral candidates
Teamsters Local 237 | 2/28/2013, 3:35 p.m.
In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the opportunity to take a final victory lap and congratulate himself on the changes he brought about during his 11 years in office. As Bloomberg's final term comes to an end, it is disheartening to hear him increasingly blame organized labor for problems his administration failed to solve. It should be clear to him that in many of the areas that he succeeded, the participation and cooperation of unions was crucial. It is essential that our next mayor understand this. As we prepare to choose our city's next mayor, the time is ripe to consider what worked and what didn't work for labor during the Bloomberg years.
During his tenure, Bloomberg, like most of his predecessors, has had an up-and-down relationship with labor. Certainly, there were times when many unions, including our own, backed the mayor's initiatives. We supported his independence and administrative skills. When times were good, he treated us fairly in contract negotiations. When times got bad, however, he seemed all too willing to throw working people under the bus. Currently, no city union has an active contract.
Occasional friction between a mayor and city labor unions is to be expected. In fact, some of the clashes between the administration and labor during the '70s and '80s make the last decade look like a picnic. While specific policies often cause contention, I believe most labor-management clashes arise from misguided principles. Some city mayors, including Bloomberg, view government as a business, but the ultimate purpose of a business is to turn a profit, whereas government's goal is--or should be--to take care of its people.
At times, Bloomberg has appointed people with experience and a deep understanding of city government--decision-makers who maintained smooth operations and delivered successful results. At other times, however, the mayor has reached too far into the back benches of the business community to find help running the city, creating turbulence instead.
For example current, New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea, a career financial-industry executive is under fire because his efforts to straighten out the long-struggling agency's finances have fallen far short of the goal. However, we are encouraged by the fact that Rhea and the city recently accepted many of the recommendations presented by the Local 237 NYCHA Task Force, a coalition of labor and community activists, including Local 237 members who work and, in many cases, live in NYCHA facilities.
Current mayoral candidates should take note of the most effective instances of labor-management relations during the Bloomberg years. They would be wise to bring labor into their discussions about how to best run this city. While some people worry that the next mayor may be too close to unions and it could hurt the city, historically that is simply not true. New Yorkand America in generalhas always done better when our working men and women were treated fairly and with respect.
Fiscal challenges in the coming years are real, but we must meet them with honesty and respect for all New Yorkers. That means running the government as it should be, for the benefit of all. This process starts at the top, with leaders who understand and appreciate the need for organized labor and its role in city management. We're ready to come to the table with anyone who is willing to negotiate in good faith. We look forward to such a mayor in 2014.