Confirmed: NY City Workers’ Wages Not Equal to Inflation


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In the March 28, 2008 edition of The Chief newspaper, which is sold to a readership mainly made up of government employees, there was an article which confirms all our fears. While the wealthy have been making money hand over foot and the New York Times has run a series about the “New Gilded Age” in America, wage increases for the city’s municipal workers have not kept up with inflation

The Chief stated that members of AFSCME District Council 37 (known as “DC 37”) – the single biggest of the NYC unions – have seen their wages fall 10 percent since 1995, if inflation is factored into the equation. The article further states that based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on inflation in the NYC metropolitan area, prices including rent, transportation, etc., have gone up by 40 percent between 1995 and 2007

These statistics confirm what every worker knows: our standard of living is being driven down.  If this is what happens when the NYC economy is mostly in growth mode, what will happen when the recession hits?  It increasingly feels like the downturn is hitting NYC now.  With Republican Mayor Bloomberg and the Democrats on the City Council getting ready to cut the budget because of the “economic slowdown,” things can only go from bad to worse

However, there is a way out.  First, the leadership of the Municipal Labor Committee must break with the Mayor’s definition of what the city can “afford” to pay its workers.  Some of the wage increases in 2002-2005 contract were granted by the city because the union leaders accepted some concessions, such as lower starting pay and taking away sick days, vacation days and a holiday from newly hired workers. The policy of getting raises for some members by accepting concessions for the “unborn” (future union members) is robbing Peter to pay Paul and must be rejected.  The role of labor leaders should be to fight for the needs of the membership, present and future.  How can they accept the billionaire Mayor’s cries of poverty when he continues to institute property tax rebates

Secondly, pattern bargaining is the system where the city makes a contract with one union, usually the one who will settle for the least, and holds all the other unions to this “pattern” agreement.  In this way, the city plays one union off against another.  The unions would be stronger if we bargain as a single united bloc.  The leadership of all the unions of the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) including  DC 37, United Federation of Teachers, Teamsters, Firefighters, Communication Workers, SEIU, the Organization of Staff Analysts, etc., should have a joint strategy of bargaining.  They should demand wage increases for all workers with no concessions, and future cost of living increases (COLA), so we do not fall back again.  In order to win this demand, workers in all the firehouses, schools and city agencies must be mobilized across union lines.  Sometimes, in one office, there are members of six or seven different unions and locals.  Every workplace should have shop stewards from the various locals communicating between the members and the leaders.  Mass mobilizations of the workers should be planned and this should also be coordinated with the bus and subway workers in the Transport Workers Union, whose contract will expire soon.  The MLC should establish a daily newsletter, distributing it in the workplaces and posting it on the Internet to apprise the members of negotiations and mobilizations

Even if unity cannot be achieved, the larger unions such as the Teachers and DC 37 could refuse to be bound by any pattern agreement that involves concessions and lack of wage increases with COLA.  These larger unions could appeal to the rank and file in the other unions to get support, knowing that if they successfully break the pattern agreement they will support the other unions’ demands to reopen their contracts.  The key to any victory is the ability to mobilize the membership fully and to establish links and support with the workers in the private sector

The Mayor and the City Council will again cry poverty.  The Big Business Democrats and Republicans must be told:  Get the money from the Gilded Age Gentry

It should be noted that the cutbacks and concessions of government employees is a national problem and it deserves a national solution.  The federal government must greatly increase general revenue sharing with the states and cities throughout the nation.  One example of the cutbacks in state and local government is the Schwarzenegger government in California, which is threatening to lay off many teachers.  The national unions such as the  American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, AFSCME, SEIU, Firefighters, Teamsters, ATU and TWU must join forces in a national campaign to get money for education, health care and social services.  This could easily come from the budget for war, if it was ended immediately.

Given the present and past policies of the current leadership of the unions, we understand that the above recommendations are probably not going to be adopted at this time.  However, we in the rank and file need to speak about an alternative to the policy of concessions.  The WIL and like-minded members of all these unions want a fight back to defend and extend our standard of living.  Join us!  


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