The start of a new year is always an exciting time. It prompts change and renewal for many of us, and for New York City, this new year also ushered in a new era.
Two events occurred on Dec. 31, 2013, that had tremendous significance for this city and this union. First, John Rhea, the chairman of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), handed in his resignation, ending a disastrous tenure in which buildings fell further into disrepair and NYCHA workers became further alienated. Rhea decided to quit ahead of being fired by incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio, who vowed to let him go.
Second, before taking his oath of office, de Blasio named the team that would handle the upcoming labor negotiations, Robert Linn and Stan Brezenoff, two respected labor negotiators who are recognized as honest and reasonable. These appointments, two of the first for the new administration, signal that the mayor gives high priority to restoring fairness to the negotiation process and getting city workers contracts that value their labor.
Local 237 has long been critical of Rhea and called for his removal more than once. Now that he is officially gone, it is a new era at NYCHA for its 400,000 tenants and its 8,000 employees. We are awaiting new leadership for the agency, and we are confident that de Blasio will pick someone with strong experience running a large housing organization.
It will not be an easy task. NYCHA could be managed much better, but it is still facing huge budget shortfalls and backlogged repairs. We have faith that the right leader can accomplish great things—and do it the right way by bringing the city’s labor partners to the table and having a discussion that will seek solutions using our current workforce. It will take time and effort, but if we work side by side—labor and management—over the long haul, we can make public housing all it was meant to be.
At the same time, every single public sector worker has been working under an expired contract for years, waiting for the city to bargain in good faith. It is a difficult situation. While the city reportedly has a surplus, the budget is still tight and the cost of retroactive raises is high. Despite these challenges, giving workers what they deserve remains my top priority. The cost of living continues to climb, getting higher in New York City every day. If wages stay the same, city workers will get poorer and the income gap between rich and poor will get wider and will further weaken the socioeconomic foundation of our city.
Similar to the situation at NYCHA, we are confident that open discussions, hard work and good faith will lead to a fair contract. Under the last administration, the leadership was more interested in following its own agenda than achieving real consensus and results. Under de Blasio’s leadership, labor has been invited to join the administration in productive conversations. While we are bound to disagree at times, it will be refreshing to sit down to make plans with a group of people who share a progressive vision for New York City.