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How Should City Unions Fight Mayoral Proposed Budget Cuts?
How Should City Unions Fight Mayoral Proposed Budget Cuts?
The Writers Guild has been on strike for 143 days, Actors are on strike as well as the United Auto Workers.
Any time you have a labor dispute; it’s not just between the workers and the management. The public’s involved, too, because the public feels the impact of the strike. If the public feels it’s the union’s fault, then they can be mad at the union. If they feel its management’s fault, they’re going to be mad at the management. So both sides are very eager to change public perceptions to make sure that they get the public on their side. (Peter Coy, NY Times, 9/21/23)
According to polling public support of unions is the highest since 50’s; however management is taking tough stances
Workers at Starbucks across the nation and Amazon on Staten Island have formed unions; management has refused to enter negotiations.
The UAW strike could be the beginning of a “wave of organizing; however, there are pitfalls.
A contract with substantial wage increases and other concessions from the three automakers could announce organized labor as an economic force to be reckoned with and accelerate a recent wave of organizing.
But there are also real pitfalls. A prolonged strike could undermine the three established U.S. automakers — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, Jeep and Ram — and send the politically crucial Midwest into recession. If the union is seen as overreaching, or if it settles for a weak deal after a costly stoppage, public support could sour.
Steven Ratner in the NY Times is in support of the union, and also warns,
Unions have an important role to play in redressing imbalances between owners and workers, and the autoworkers are certainly deserving of a substantial pay raise. That said, we need to be careful about killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
Among the UAW’s demands is the reopening of the defined benefit plans at all three automakers in addition to the re-establishment of retiree healthcare and cost-of-living adjustments plus 40% salary increases and a reduction to a 4-day/32 hour work week
Heather Cox Richardson, in her daily blog, Letter from an American, writes,
Shawn Fain, the new leader of the UAW’s position is not just about autoworkers; it is about all U.S. workers. “Our fight is not just for ourselves but for every worker who is being undervalued, for every retiree who’s given their all and feels forgotten, and for every future worker who deserves a fair chance at a prosperous life,” Fain said. “[W]e are all fed up of living in a world that values profits over people. We’re all fed up with seeing the rich get richer while the rest of us continue to just scrape by. We’re all fed up with corporate greed. And together, we’re going to fight to change it.”
Auto plants can be moved to non-union states or other nations, accelerating what the companies have been doing for decades; there is a thin line between aggressive bargaining and overreaching.
Public employees work for a governmental authority, strikes in most states are illegal and salaries and other benefits are funded through taxpayer dollars.
Management is elected members of a school board or city councils or state legislatures who negotiate with public employee unions and are also responsible to voters who pay for the raises in the tax dollars.
In New York City taxes are determined by the state legislature and the governor, not the city and, by constitution, budgets must be balanced.
New York City is a strong mayor system, the mayor appoints about 300 commissioners, deputy and associate commissioners, and the city council plays no role. The city charter gives the council oversight responsibilities, meaning hold public hearings and approves the budget, due each year by July 1.
Public employee unions are actually negotiating with management, and the public. If the public is hostile to the police or teachers it is unlikely the governmental authority will negotiate a contract opposed by the voters.
Public employee contract negotiations in New York State are governed by the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). Under PERB rules all contracts remain in full force and effect until the successor contract is ratified and PERB, if both parties accept, provide mediation, fact-finding and non-binding arbitration.
Politics is at the core of public employee negotiations and public employee unions commonly reach out to community and advocacy organizations
“Politics” has become a dirty word, it conjures corruption; however, politics is the process by which representatives are elected and laws passed, and public employee collective bargaining agreements, are negotiated.
A week ago I met Justin Brennan, the chair of the City Council Finance Committee; Mayor Adams is proposing widespread PEG cuts, $20 million at Community Colleges and Brennan is facing a tough opponent in the November election. I set up a meeting between Brennan and CUNY Rising a coalition of twenty organizations fighting for adequate CUNY funding.
All of us should become citizen lobbyists, joining local political organizations, visit electeds in their local offices, face to face meetings, speaking at hearings, get up from the couch and move beyond Facebook and computer screens.
Strikes are a last resort, the writers and actors strikes are for the survival of their jobs and the UAW strike also over jobs as the industry shrinks. And, of course, if you choose to strike, everybody must join you.
Public employees unions work closely with electeds and community organizations, Public schools have lost nearly 100,000 pupils, or about 10% of enrollment since the 2019-2020 school year yet no teachers have been laid off or schools closed. Quietly, Mulgrew, the teacher union president, Adrienne Adams, the speaker of the City Council and the Mayor agreed, stability in the school system was essential. Quiet diplomacy was far more effective then saber rattling.
Remember the process by which the UFT endorsed a mayoral candidate in 2021? The UFT live streamed two rounds of candidate interviews, 12,000 members watched the interviews and voted; the union endorsed Scott Stringer, a close ally of the union as a member of the Assembly and two terms as Comptroller, a #metoo scandal exploded during the campaign and Stringer’s support disappeared.
Hovering somewhere out there are virtual schools and the specter of Artificial Intelligence, a personal chatbot for every kid, not generations down the road, years down the road. (Read “The Teacher Shortage: Can Chatbots Be Unionized?” here)
Rather than “preparing for a strike,” as one union caucus urges, the union has to remain nimble, work with communities and advocacy organizations and especially with the elected community. We will occasionally “agree to disagree” with mayors and chancellors, we will fight in the legislative bodies with or against mayors and chancellors, we will collaborate when possible, ultimately we represent the members, all the members, the members in all the caucuses or in none of the caucuses.
Teachers are not going on strike for 143 days; we need union leadership representative of the membership who can successfully navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of today.