Bloomberg and Labor

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Joyce Purnick, Bloomberg biographer and WNYC political analyst, talked about Bloomberg's history with public workers.

In the shadow of Wisconsin collective bargaining standoff, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's strong language on union's excesses, and pro-union protests across the country last weekend, Mayor Michael Bloomberg carved out his position in a New York Times op-ed on Sunday headlined, "Limit Pay, Not Unions."

Joyce Purnick said it was a classic Bloomberg approach: "to be practical, to be pragmatic and not to be driven by ideology."

Purnick did point out that Bloomberg's glowing language on organized labor ("they are integral to training, deploying and managing a professional work force") is a little at odds with his record of contracting out work to the private sector. But she said his position makes good political sense right now. 

If he's going to get pension reform out of Albany, he doesn't want to have the unions, which support Albany lawmakers with huge his enemies. He doesn't want that. So to some degree, he needs the unions to work with him. He's got another three years as mayor. He can't declare war on the unions. There's no way you can govern in New York City, and declare war on the unions. You can run that way, but you can't govern that way.

And no matter how friendly Bloomberg's tone is, when pension reform givebacks are on the table, Purnick said the unions will be the first to blink.

I think they realize he's not Scott Walker, but they cannot say that publicly. The irony here is he has not been, throughout his entire two terms plus, tough on the unions. He gave teachers over the years a 43 percent salary increase. Now, he did that for reasons that are strong. He did that because the city teachers were not earning parity with the teachers in Nassau and Suffolk, and so on, at the time he took office, and it was getting more and more difficult to hire teachers. It made absolute sense. It made absolute sense to try to further professionalize the teachers in New York City. But it is a 43 percent increase. And he did not get a lot, he got some, but he did not get a lot of givebacks for that, a lot of concessions.