New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has gone the way of Michael Bloomberg by threatening layoffs of city employees, which is leaving workers on edge.
The city’s upcoming budget shrunk from $95.3 billion several months ago to $87 billion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The dominance of COVID-19 reduced the amount of revenue that City Hall predicted would come into the city and forced the local government to potentially cut jobs on the backs of labor.
On Wednesday, de Blasio said that labor unions need to find $1 billion in savings. If they can’t, the city will help by laying off 22,000 workers.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew stated that the city could do better—and should do better—by his constituents.
“There’s a ‘thank you for your service’ during the pandemic—a layoff notice for thousands of city workers who created an unparalleled virtual education program, staffed the clinics, drove the ambulances, and kept other city services going,” said Mulgrew.
City Hall officials stated that de Blasio has practically run through any reserved money the city had left. As a result, the city is gearing up for a $2.7 billions saving plan that goes through the end of next fiscal year.
“We’ve hoped for borrowing authority for all from Albany—did not happen. We had to move on without it,” said de Blasio during Tuesday’s media briefing. “New York City on its own, doing what we could do with what we have, something New York City has had to do before in our history, we’re doing again. So, we put together a budget that will work; within that budget is a billion dollars in labor savings.
“And I want to be very clear, we’re going to get to work with our labor unions to find that billion dollars,” the mayor said. “We’re going to keep working on trying to get that stimulus in Washington, that borrowing authority in Albany. But if we cannot find a way, then October 1st looms as the day we would have to put into effect layoffs. And that’s the last resort, to say the least. We do not want it to happen.”
New York City’s public school employees are in dire straits, but they aren’t the only ones on the potential chopping block. Teachers and staff at City University of New York (CUNY) locations may feel the brunt of a budget crunch.
This year’s budget gives New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo the unilateral authority to cut the state budget as a response to the loss of revenue via COVID-19. CUNY might see a significant chunk of those cuts, which could be as high as $95 million. De Blasio is also looking to cut CUNY’s budget, proposing $31.6 million chopped from funds.
Barbara Bowen, president of the Progressional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY), the union representing faculty and staff, stated that de Blasio and Cuomo should begin cutting the budget in other areas.
“The members of the PSC refuse to normalize cuts and layoffs at CUNY,” said Bowen. “We are demanding that New York State and City governments, the federal government, and the CUNY administration prioritize people’s lives and livelihoods over protecting the wealth of the rich. That’s the choice they will be making when CUNY announces next week whether it will go ahead with plans to reduce course offerings for students, lay off thousands of employees and toss its most vulnerable employees off health insurance during a pandemic.”
Union members took to the internet and Gov. Cuomo’s Manhattan offices to protest against potential budget cuts. Standing six feet apart at 633 3rd Ave., workers held signs that read, “Save Lives Save Jobs Save CUNY” and “No CUNY Cuts No CUNY Layoffs,” video of which could be seen on the union’s Facebook page.
The top branch at PSC-CUNY have also announced that it would take the state to court if any layoffs occur at CUNY on the basis of the (CARES) Act provision on keeping university employees on payroll.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams recently produced a report calling CUNY “underfunded” and under-equipped to deal with a mass increase in enrollment. Bowen hopes that the mayor course corrects.
“Cutting CUNY is cutting a lifeline for New York’s communities of color and those hardest hit by COVID-19,” said Bowen. “It’s not too late to change course.”