The May 1 announcement of a tentative contract settlement between negotiators for New York City and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) signaled that the massive logjam in municipal bargaining was beginning to break up. But it’s still a large logjam, and the remaining 151 expired contracts will take some time to resolve.
The proposed agreement, which will be voted on by UFT members, provides raises totaling 18% over a nine-year period. Most of the raises, and most of the contract’s retroactive pay, would be paid out toward the end.
The tentative deal came after several years in which former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, refused to engage in real bargaining with the City’s workforce, demanding harsh concessions and offering nothing in return. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration’s willingness to actually negotiate was greeted with some relief in municipal labor circles: “Bargaining Back in Style,” said a headline in The Chief, New York City’s civil service weekly.
Bringing the bargaining to a successful conclusion is another story. Bloomberg budgeted no money for City worker raises for several years running, leaving the new administration in a fiscal hole. The UFT deal – with a nine-year term that may be the longest in the City’s history, according to The Chief – includes some unique features that would be hard to apply to other unions, so the pace of other settlements is likely to vary. Historically, CUNY has not settled the PSC contract until most of the other municipal contracts are complete, in part because of the complexity of CUNY funding.
“The big question is what the UFT settlement means for us,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen. “One thing it means for sure is that there will now be momentum to settle other contracts. And the PSC bargaining team is ready to act fast. But we want a contract that moves our members forward – economically and in other ways – and that may take several months to hammer out, given that CUNY negotiations involve New York State as well as New York City,” Bowen said.
“The needs of our union are different from the needs of the UFT, and we will seek to craft an agreement that improves our salaries and lives at CUNY,” she told Clarion. “As a union that has been active politically and whose members have shown we are willing to organize, the PSC is in a good position to make the most of this moment.”
The last UFT contract expired in 2009, and the first two years of the new agreement would cover a period in which the “pattern” for other City union settlements was 4% increases each year. The settlement would give UFT members matching raises, but they will not start receiving the raises until much later: 2% would be added to members’ paychecks each year for four years, starting in May 2015. Retroactive pay for the period starting in 2009 would be paid in installments between 2015 and 2020.
In addition, members would get a $1,000 signing bonus, one year with a 0% raise, 1% raises for three years, and raises of 1.5%, 2.5% and 3% in the final three years. (A UFT chart lays out the complex schedule of these salary changes.)
The tentative deal is contingent on reaching a target of $1.3 billion in reductions in the annual cost of health care for the City’s workforce by four years from now. The Municipal Labor Committee (MLC), the coalition that negotiates health insurance for all municipal unions, including the PSC, identified proposed cost-savings that would not increase expenses to members, and voted to approve the proposal. The MLC had argued for some years that the City could be more efficient in providing health coverage to its employees, but the Bloomberg administration had been unwilling to seriously negotiate over putting the resulting savings toward wages.
The City also agreed to increases in per capita welfare fund contributions for active and retired employees in each of the next four years, and to provide additional funds on a recurring basis thereafter. In addition, the MLC is committed to working with the City to shift certain very high-cost drugs, such as those for multiple sclerosis, to a City-funded program, and out of the individual welfare funds. Such a change would help thousands of New Yorkers coping with life-altering diseases.
The other development in public-worker contracts came with a tentative contract agreement for NYC transit workers. Negotiators for Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 announced the agreement April 17. It provides for raises totaling more than 8% over a five-year period, some increases in members’ health-care costs and some improvements in benefits. New hires would now need five years, rather than the current three, to reach full rates of pay.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the TWU settlement was that it marked a shift away from the three years of 0% wage increases that Gov. Cuomo had insisted on imposing on State employees in contract settlements with Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), Public Employees Federation (PEF) and UUP, the faculty and staff union at SUNY. (See Clarion, August 2011, November 2011, August 2013.)
In 2012, the Daily News reported that “Cuomo…made it clear he expects MTA workers to follow the example set by the state’s two largest public employee unions – the CSEA and Public Employees Federation – which accepted contracts in 2011 that included no wage increases for three years.”
Asked about the change, State officials pointed to the MTA’s savings from the provisions on health costs and new-hire pay. But those do not come close to paying for the proposed pact’s wage increases: according to The New York Times, wages and benefits in the new agreement would be worth $525 million more than before.
“The PSC has argued all along that there is money available to the State and the City to fund fair contracts,” commented Bowen, “and we are pleased to see movement toward increased funding. The key to our success will be creating visible, organized, undeniable pressure from members. That’s what has won every advance we have ever achieved.”