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Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

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Message Robert Cowen
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New York City's billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg generally gets high marks from the media for being a no-nonsense, get-things-done kind of guy, and therefore is just the kind of politician who is needed on the national scene to bring us together in order to break the gridlock that we find ourselves in. Moreover he has adopted a soothing, non-confrontational, almost grandfatherly demeanor, far different from his volatile predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

Most recently Mike has been out on the campaign trail supporting (according to the New York Times, 9/18/2010) "Republicans, Democrats and independents that he says are not bound by rigid ideology and are capable of compromise." Among the candidates to receive the mayor's support are Republican Meg Whitman, likewise a billionaire, running for governor of California; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is being challenged by Republican Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle; and Democrat Joe Sestak, who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania.

Many of us who live in New York City, especially city employees, are less enthusiastic about our billionaire mayor, who freely uses his fortune to further his political ends. Mike started out as an unknown quantity who spent $73 million of his own money, outspending his opponent 5 to 1, to get elected mayor in 2001. He claimed he needed to spend all that money since he lacked name recognition. However, during the 2005 and 2009 elections he spent even more when presumably he was by that time very well known indeed.

He also contributes a great deal of money to non-profit organizations in the city and this, no doubt, buys him a lot of "good will." This was especially important in the last election because of New York City's term limit law (passed by referendum) that allows only two terms for elected city officials. Bloomberg, citing the fiscal crisis, went to the City Council and succeeded in getting them to overturn the law for current office holders, even though he had previously called efforts to overturn the law "disgusting." The vote was close, 29 to 22, and there was a lot of acrimony, with charges and counter charges. Members of the City Council were also covered under this term limit law; thus those who were in their second term were voting on whether they themselves could run again.

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Bloomberg has had rocky relations with municipal labor unions during his terms in office. His administration has often forced unions to work years without a contract by offering little or nothing initially and waiting years before entering into serious negotiations. In addition, "give backs" are always demanded--even for the modest increases finally negotiated. For example, faculty and staff at the City University worked almost four years without a contract beginning in 2002. Finally in December of 2004, CUNY management made an initial financial offer that many considered insulting. Management proposed no increase in the first year of the contract, 1.5% for the second year, 1% in the third year--if union members pay for it through "productivity increases," and 0% in the fourth year. In addition, a lump sum of $400 would be paid at the start, but would not become part of the base pay used to calculate future increases. It was not until 2006 that a halfway decent contract was signed--one that provided for a total increase of 9.5% over the life of the contract, November 2002 through September 2007, in addition to increased contributions to the Union Welfare Fund.

Other municipal unions had similar experiences. Under New York States' "Taylor Law," public employees are forbidden to strike and the old contract remains in force without any cost of living adjustments. This provides little incentive for management to reach a speedy agreement and Bloomberg took full advantage of this. Only once during Bloomberg's term has a municipal union had the temerity to defy the Taylor Law and go out on strike, and they were severely punished for their actions--a lesson not lost on the other public employee unions.

In December 2005, the transit workers union, TWU Local 100, called a strike during the Christmas shopping season after negotiations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) broke down. The strike shut down the entire New York City transit system. Mayor Bloomberg appoints four out of 17 members of the MTA and wasn't directly involved in the negotiations; however he quickly demonized the union and its leader: "For their own selfish reasons, the TWU has decided that their demands are more important than the law, the City and the people they serve. This is not only an affront to the concept of public service; it is a cowardly attempt by Roger Toussaint and the TWU to bring the City to its knees to create leverage for their own bargaining position."

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The strike only lasted three days, however. Roger Touissant, Local 100 President, who was threatened by large financial penalties to the union and jail time for himself and members of Local 100's executive board under the Taylor law, called off the strike after secret negotiations with a state mediator promised to remove the most onerous give backs demanded by the MTA while providing modest wage increases.

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I am a retired College Professor (Mathematics) having taught for over 40 years at Queens College, CUNY. I have been active with my union, the PSC, and with radical faculty on campus. We have engaged in Anti-Recruiting as well as showing films (more...)

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