NYC's Looming Contracts, and Retroactive Pay

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Anthony Shorris (John Moore/Getty)

James Parrot, Deputy Director and Chief Economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, discusses the municipal labor contract negotiations and whether teachers and other unions are all clamoring for the same pot of money.


James Parrott

Comments [22]

Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Decertify all the unions..... and don't give them a penny.

Feb. 06 2014 08:35 PM
RJ from prospect hts

For the angry fellow who railed against public sector union benefits: I want to reinforce James Parrott's point: He should unionize. There's one specifically for his discipline: the United Food and Commercial Workers. That's how *all* workers have obtained decent lives since WW II. I have a question for him: Why does he want his neighbors' standards of living brought down? On a personal level, it will reduce the property values of his community, thereby reducing school and public services quality. On a moral level, I can't understand wanting to impose his poor working situation on others--is there a benefit there I'm not seeing? Is it purely retribution? Revenge? If he wants revenge, he should look at the corporate tax breaks and low income tax levels on the wealthy that have taken funds out of the system that should be paying for the public sector workers benefits, not the retrograde "fees" (read taxes) that the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations have imposed on working and middle class people.

Feb. 06 2014 12:10 PM
RJ from prospect hts

My apologies--I intended the comment below for the gentrification discussion (and have copied it there) not for this one.

Feb. 06 2014 12:04 PM
RJ from Prospect hts

I've lived in Prospect Hts for 30 years, and I originally grew up nearby in Crown Hts, in the 60s, and then again nearby as a house-sitter in 1979. What's happened in the last 30 years here is economy-generated; gentrifiers moved in in the early 80s (I was part of the first lower-income wave), a lot of people left after the 87 crash, then floods of expanding financial service families flowed back in in the 90s, pushing out the Caribbean community, many of whom went to Flatbush, further out, but retaining many of them as their nannies. At the same time, many black people who had moved up here for jobs in the South and bought the only houses they could--due to pervasive redlining that my family saw and fought in Crown hts in the 60s--bought in this neighborhood. Many have now retired and/or died; some are moving back to the South. Some became single-room-occupancy buildings when the neighborhood became desperately poor in the 70s. Their children are inheriting and selling, and then the houses are being gutted and flipped, and so now are selling upwards of $2 million. Many are being converted from single family to multiple apartments, some coops, extraordinarily expensive. So the neighborhood has priced out many poor and working class people of color. It is accumulating high-end boutique stores and restaurants. As I write, an entire corner with a restaurant, barbershop, muffin store, and ice cream store are being shut down--the Spanish restaurant has been here over 30 years, predating me--and it will be developed into a higher rise, high-income setup.

There are a few upsides. Due to the intense advocacy of people--particularly around the ugly Barclay center/Atlantic Yards development--brought in extended sidewalks to try to control the traffic that would have overwhelmed the surrounding neighborhoods. They brought in street dividers--tree-filled islands on Vanderbilt Ave, for example. Bike lanes. Young people have moved in and are living 3, 4, 5 to an apartment--they are a mixed bag, as the bars and cafes catering to them do not accommodate older and longer-term residents. An up side: I've seen many gay and interracial couples on the streets, which would have been unheard-of when I was growing up nearby.

Feb. 06 2014 11:33 AM
lj from nyc

The problem with allowing politicians to bargain with the unions is that, unlike in the private sector, the people handing out these endless perks are not the people who have to foot the bill. The entire system for negotiating contracts for city workers is broken: the unions give their support to whoever promises the most (i.e., bribes them), and we, the taxpayers, get stuck with the tab that runs for decades. Guess what--no working people have had raises since the current great recession started (that is, among those still working), and most assuredly they will NEVER see retroactive raises, free healthcare, pensions calculated on rip-off "overtime," etc. As a start at some sort of rational reform, just say no to retroactive raises.

Feb. 06 2014 11:17 AM
jef from Manhattan

Regarding retroactive pay and in response to one of the call-in speakers who spoke of looking forward, not back...Lilly Ledbetter (her speech during the last presidential campaign) made me realize that one's pay not only affects the present but also your retirement years ie social security- based on contributions which are based on rate of pay; pension - based on percentage of your earnings; savings...All workers should have unions representing them- unions could be considered the 4th branch of government.

Feb. 06 2014 10:58 AM
Wei from Queens

No one is talking about the elephant in the room. The long term pension costs. Across the country these costs are ballooning and pulling money away from the people who are actively currently working and providing services. The unions use seniority, so they don't seem to care that the next generation gets less pay or benefits, they are always the first to be jettisoned by all these unions.
What happens when we hit the tipping point? Do we not provide services for the current needs because we over promised the last generation? Or do we head for bankruptcy and the retirees get nothing? Let's get real here and talk about the real problem, since no union rep will ever touch the subject. They will immediately say it should have been funded, but from where? If you actually look at the numbers, you can seize the assets of the 1% and it still couldn't fund the promises which in aggregate are in the 10s of trillions.

Feb. 06 2014 10:44 AM
Jay F.

Why does everyone assume that Sergei works in a huge bakery and not in a small "Mom and Pop" shop... Would unions help him out then?

Feb. 06 2014 10:36 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Wow, the soul of insincerity. Cry some more crocodile tears for "private sector" workers you disingenuous shill. If private sector workers were mandated by law to receive the same treatment as public sector workers NYC would clear out overnight and there wouldn't be any tax revenue. End of story. Public sector unions are parasitic, they shouldn't exist. I'm all for private sector unionization because at least their demands are moderated by the success of the companies they contract with. Public sector unions are just sucking the blood out of taxpayers and they will never, ever stop demanding MORE. Economy could collapse tomorrow and they will still be talking about what they're "entitled" to...

Feb. 06 2014 10:33 AM
James in Greenwich Village from Manhattan

I work in the private sector, but I have been a union member in the past. During the Great Recession, my pay was cut dramatically--but I am glad to have the work--and our contributions to our health insurance have gone up. I have worked for some of the best companies in the world--but have no pension. I support unions. But their expectations seem unrealistic and out of touch to me. They're retained their jobs during the economic crisis; they have benefits that do not exist in the private sector. And demanding retroactive pay, which will cost other programs that the rest of us benefit form, seems detached from reality. Mr. parrot raised a good point about union-level benefits for all, but he sidestepped the basic issue raised by the caller, Sergei,which I think is similar to mine.

Feb. 06 2014 10:33 AM

I am tired of this public sector talking point tirade. The difference between public and private sector is I have no choice with the public sector. If they give themselves big raises, I pay or loose my home or go to prison. If a public company gives itself a big raise and becomes too expensive I can choose not to buy their product. Public unions should be banned. A close relationship has formed between public unions and public officials who need their support. Unfortunately, no one looks out for the people who actually pay the bills. The guest says we should be raising up everyone else to the public standards, but he know that is not possible in a global economy. You would be out of business and therefore out of a job very quickly.

Feb. 06 2014 10:32 AM

Maybe working in a bakery wasnt the best career choice?

Feb. 06 2014 10:31 AM

Serge is actually wrong. He could be in a union if he wanted to in NYC. There is a Hotle Motel aUnion and they do get these benefits. And they do have bakers in them.

Feb. 06 2014 10:31 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Oh, Sergie - then join a union. I don't want my teachers or cops making $10 an hour "off the books", no over-time, and vacation because you are.

Feb. 06 2014 10:30 AM
BigGuy from Forest Hills

Unionized bakery workers used to have ALL the benefits that Sergey described. The solution is not to bring Public Workers and their unions DOWN, but to bring Private Sector workers UP by enabling them to unionize.

Feb. 06 2014 10:29 AM
RJ from Prospect hts

He has not organized for his rights; there are unions in the private sector, and there is a bakers' union. If he organized, he could negotiate these benefits. That's what the teachers did.

Feb. 06 2014 10:27 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Would it necessarily be paid as a lump sum? Could it be added to teachers' paychecks for a given number of years, or divided some other way (e.g., part of it every year till it's all paid back)?

chip: Yeah, but that went all those years w/out a raise, when many of "the rest of us" were getting raises. They were doing the work, the cost of living was going up, & not getting the raises at the time was a hardship.

Feb. 06 2014 10:25 AM
RJ from Prospect hts

Please, do *not* forget that all of these "city workers"--these special interests--are US! We live next door to them, they are WNYC listeners, their children go to school with our children. They are not alien beings sent to vacuum up the city--they have as much interest in the health and well-being of this city as any and everyone else. My father is a city teacher, I'm the daughter of a city teacher, I went to city schools, I use mass transit and city lights and sanitation and street plows etc. etc. Don't forget this!

Feb. 06 2014 10:22 AM

In comparison to other States, how well are NY/NYC teachers compensated? How many retired teachers/state workers are taking their NY retirement packages and moving to no/low tax - low state worker compensation states?

Feb. 06 2014 10:22 AM

Bear in mind. Without a contract, the teachers are already getting annual raises more than the rest of us. The retroactive raises are in additon to the raises they have already gotten. Nice work if you can get it...

Feb. 06 2014 10:17 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I think Mr. Parrot referred to "city employers" early on. Are different agencies (in this case, the dept. of education) considered separate employers rather than the city govt. as a whole being 1 employer? If so, how does this affect how they negotiate?

Feb. 06 2014 10:16 AM

Raises but no back pay. and for teachers, more holidays, but longer class days, please.

Feb. 06 2014 10:09 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.