New York City’s July 1 budget deadline looms. Mayor Bloomberg has proposed cutting 4,000 teachers, day care closures, and the elimination of 22 fire houses. Week after week, municipal workers have been staging large protests, joined by hundreds of city residents who will be impacted by the cuts. Last week, DC 37 became one of the latest unions to stage a public protest to Bloomberg’s proposals.
DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts “served notice on the Bloomberg administration and the City Council that they cannot balance the budget on the backs of city workers.” Over the years, members of DC 37 and other unions have
experienced layoffs, attrition, service cuts, and increased workloads while others have profited from the city budget. The city has entered into contracts with private vendors totaling over $10 billion. DC37’s research has found the administration has not collected business tax revenues in the millions. “Enough is enough,” said Roberts.
LaTonya Johnson from Milwaukee, Wisconsin spoke of her challenges as a child care worker threatened with budget cuts that would no longer allow her to provide services to low income children. In Wisconsin, unions are being stripped of their collective bargaining rights. Johnson laid blame at the feet of voters who stay home, don’t go to the polls and support the people who “support working class citizens.” She asked workers to remember history: the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in NYC and Martin Luther King’s advocacy for Memphis sanitation workers. “People died for worker rights. Together, we are the protectors of our public sector employees,” Johnson said.
Several City Council members attended the rally in a show of support, including Letitia James, Matthieu Eugene, and Jumaane Williams. Ironically, the crowd didn’t seem to notice that among them were council members who voted for Bloomberg to run for a third term, like Councilman Robert Jackson.
Councilman Charles Barron said, “The city council has to get the courage to protect the people of the city. We have a $3.1 billion surplus; we have nearly $3 billion in a rainy day fund. And they found $500 million in a fund no one knew existed. So, what are you doing cutting day care slots, laying off ACS workers, laying off teachers, shutting down fire stations? It is unacceptable. The bottom line is the power is in the hands of the city council.
The mayor has no vote one the budget. None. And the (council) speaker has one.
Barron suggests all the council members attending rallies should “Just say no. Even if it means a court battle to make him spent the money, so be it. We have to stop this reverse Robin Hood – robbing from the poor to give to the rich. It is devastating our communities.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said, “We knew this was going to happen when we let Mayor Bloomberg come back for a third term. He said he was here to save us from a bad economy. He is delivering to us the greatest cuts to education, child care, libraries that we have seen since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. We are not going to stand for it. These cuts hurt our children. Our future is being undermined. This is not how we build a future for NYC.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer remembered “when the city was on the brink of bankruptcy, unions like DC 37 and the UFT and the sanitation department all stepped up to help this city. We are going to make sure the spending negotiations are fair and just, and meet the needs of the people of this city. It is time to take politics out of the budget.”
While the rally was taking place, a coalition of New Yorkers set up an encampment across the street from City Hall.
Voicing opposition to the administration’s budget cuts, the encampment called itself “Bloombergville,” harkening back to during the Great Depression when homeless people built shanty towns called Hooverville in ‘honor’ of President
Herbert Hoover who was accused of letting the nation slide into depression. One protester said they intend to campout “until a fair budget deal is reached.”
The next day, a private meeting was held with member unions of the Municipal Labor Committee. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn tried to get the unions to use their Health Insurance Stabilization Fund to prevent layoffs of 4,100 teachers. The UFT was reportedly in favor of the deal, although the teachers union conspicuously declined from making any endorsement when Bloomberg ran for his third term against Then NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson.
Many of the 90 unions represented at the meeting were more reticent because the deal came with only a one year no-layoff guarantee. Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd said the fund was set up for health benefits, not averting layoffs. In addition, during the last round of negotiations several unions did not receive a contract.
Correction Officer’s Benefit Association President Norman Seabrook argued the deal would take $400 million from the union health fund and avert layoffs for one year, but 12 months later, the unions would be in the same position with less leverage. Seabrook would prefer the deal avert layoffs for two and a half years. By that time, there would be a new administration to work with.
Contentious budget talks continue.