A contract is more than a financial agreement between two people or parties. It’s a sign of trust and a commitment. When negotiating an agreement, you are not just setting financial terms, but also establishing a bond that will serve as the foundation for the relationship moving forward.
At the moment, not a single city union has a contract with the city. The situation has not only left the city’s public employees in financial limbo, but also created an atmosphere of distrust around the mayor and his agency heads.
When the mayor was actually signing or trying to negotiate fair contracts with most labor unions, those relationships were warmer or at least mutually respectful. Now, the contract drought has strained labor relations on a number of other issues.
Why the hostility? Without contracts, all of us have gone years without raises. This pay freeze wouldn’t be so bad if the cost to sustain our middle-class lifestyles had stayed the same. Rents have increased. The cost of food has increased. Tuitions have increased. The overall cost of living, especially in one of the country’s most expensive cities, continues to climb. A year without a raise is really a pay cut.
The administration recently said that it is considering offering raises again if we forget all those pay cuts and give the money right back in the form of contributions to health care. That doesn’t sound like much of a deal to me.
Labor unions did not welcome news of this supposed deal, not only because it was unfair, but because of the manner in which it was delivered. Instead of sitting down and working with union leaders to find common ground, senior administrative officials made an announcement at a public event and distributed it through the press. Take it or leave it, they said.
That sort of bargaining–if you can call it that–does not build trust. There is no question we face tough challenges ahead and will have to make tough choices. We need dialogue and trust more than ever. Negotiating through the media is not how that is accomplished.
In his last budget address delivered last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg essentially said that the city was on solid financial ground. Moreover, $1 billion of unexpected revenue had appeared, padding City Hall’s coffers. And yet, he took the opportunity to stress again that there was no way the city could afford to compensate employees for back pay. Moreover, he continued to press the unproven point that city employee benefits are unsustainable.
All of this stinks of more political grandstanding and game playing. We do not have the time to engage in such tactics when the real lives of our members and their families are hanging in the balance. There are ways we can work together, but we need to be at the same table to do it. We have many ideas that can keep down health care costs and reduce the city’s budget without putting the entire burden on the backs of employees.
It’s time we get back to building trust, talking straight and getting the job done. Whether it’s with the current administration or the next mayor, we need new contracts not only for financial stability, but to regain faith in our mutual commitment to this city, its employees and its residents.