In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Bloomberg used the opportunity to take a final victory lap and congratulate himself for the changes he brought about during his 11 years in office. As Bloomberg’s final term comes to an end, it is disheartening to hear him increasingly blame organized labor for the problems that his administration failed to solve.
It should be clear to him that in many of the areas that he succeeded, the participation and cooperation of unions was crucial. It is essential that our next mayor understand this.
It may be too soon to assess the mayor’s legacy, but as we prepare to choose our city’s next mayor, the time is ripe to consider what worked for labor and what didn’t during the Bloomberg years.
During his tenure, Mayor Bloomberg, like most of his predecessors, has had an up and down relationship with labor. Certainly there were times when many unions, including our own, backed the mayor’s initiatives. We supported his independence and administrative skills. When times were good, he treated us fairly in contract negotiations. When times got bad, however, he seems all too willing to throw working people under the bus. Currently, no city union has an active contract.
Occasional friction between a mayor and city labor unions is to be expected. In fact, some of the clashes between the administration and labor during the ‘70s and ‘80s make the last decade look like a picnic. While specific policies often cause contention, I believe most labor-management clashes arise from misguided principles. Some city mayors, including Bloomberg, view government as a business. But, the ultimate purpose of a business is to turn a profit, whereas government’s goal is ─ or should be ─ to take care of its people.
At times Bloomberg has appointed people with long experience and deep understanding of city government; decision makers who maintained smooth operations and delivered successful results. There have been other times, however, when the Mayor has reached too far into the back benches of the business community to find help running the city, but created turbulence instead.
Current New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea, a career financial-industry executive, for example, is under fire as his efforts to straighten out the long-struggling agency’s finances have fallen far short of the goal. We are encouraged, however, that Rhea and the city recently accepted many of the recommendations presented by the Local 237 NYCHA Task Force, a coalition of labor and community activists, including Local 237 members who work, and in many cases live, in NYCHA facilities.
The current group of mayoral candidates should take note of the most effective instances of labor/management relations during the Bloomberg years. They would be wise to bring labor into their discussions about how to best run this city. While some people may worry that the next mayor may be too close to unions and it could hurt the city, historically that is simply not true. New York ─ and America ─ has always done better when our working men and women are treated fairly and with respect.
Fiscal challenges in the coming years are real, but we must meet them with honesty and respect for all New Yorkers. That means running the government, as it should be, for the benefit of all. This process starts at the top, with leaders who understand and appreciate the need for organized labor and its role in city management. We’re ready to come to the table with anyone who is willing to negotiate in good faith. We look forward to such a mayor in 2014.