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Putting soul back in City Hall

Gregory Floyd | 2/27/2014, 4:35 p.m.
Government at all levels can be a powerful tool to uplift people and make our communities better.
President, Teamsters Local 237

Not everyone loves the government. Some people argue that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Others even believe the government can hurt us or make our lives more difficult.

But that’s not how I see government. Government at all levels can be a powerful tool to uplift people and make our communities better. Maybe government isn’t the answer to all our problems, but it can help with many of them. It all depends on how we perceive the role of government in our lives.

Is government just meant to provide the bare minimum of protections? Or can it be something more? Government can and should be used proactively to empower citizens and continually improve their lives. It can do that through programs that give people opportunities and through good jobs that provide a decent living and a secure retirement.

That is what our new mayor, Bill de Blasio, talked about in his State of the City address. Quoting Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s call for a “government with a soul,” de Blasio resolved to look at numbers in the budget as representing real people trying to live their lives and asking for a little help. Governing with a soul means that we should focus on helping as many people as we can instead of maintaining the status quo for just a few. It means increasing our humanity. Above all, it means governing with a sense of compassion, not complacency.

Government is not big business. While the budgets are large, they are needed to fund essential services. The purpose of government is to help people, not to turn a profit. This issue was at the heart of the anger directed at the previous mayor, who too often seemed to view city governance through numbers and the bottom line, not through the eyes of those he represented. New Yorkers cried out for leaders who embraced a different view of governing, one that recognizes the needs of people from the bottom up and not the top down.

Even though it has only been a few months, we have already seen the difference in this new government. Together with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—who also believes in a compassionate government—the mayor is pushing through a bill that will give paid sick days to thousands of workers who need and deserve them. The selection of a new NYCHA chair, Shola Olatoye, who has worked for years to get residents good, affordable housing, also shows that we are moving in the right direction.

Where does that leave our municipal labor force? We are the ones charged with carrying out this new soulful mission and translating it into real action for New Yorkers. City workers are the ones who will keep us safe, protect our rights, enforce new rules bringing fairness to the workplace and help fix public housing. Moreover, municipal employees are the backbone of the middle class and the very people that the government should help in its mandate to maintain a stable economy.

In his State of the City address, de Blasio recognized the hard work and commitment of public employees and expressed his gratitude and respect for the services we provide. He also acknowledged that when all New Yorkers succeed, it enriches all of our lives.

The next step in governing with a soul is to get our municipal unions the contracts they have been waiting for and sorely deserve. We have yet to see the strategy the new administration will bring to the negotiating table, but we hope it is focused on humanity. Giving our workers a much-needed economic boost is not just a matter of resolving a complex budget issue; it is rather an issue of fairness and compassion.

New York City has always been distinguished for its soul, and our new government promises to enhance that legacy with policies that advocate for everyday people. I look forward to helping this vision become an actuality in the coming months.