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New York Post

 

Meet Mayor Mulgrew

June 29, 2011

By Nicole Gelinas

Making decisions when Bloomberg won’t

Let’s all give a round of applause to the deputy mayors responsible for New York City’s final $68.9 billion budget -- Michael Mulgrew and Lillian Roberts.

OK -- Mulgrew and Roberts don’t actually work in Mayor Bloomberg’s shop. Mulgrew heads up the union for public-school teachers, while Roberts represents much of the rest of the civilian city-government workforce. But they sure did shape the budget.

The two boast 231,000 workers -- more than two-thirds of Gotham’s force. And for months Bloomberg has been leaving all his tough management choices up to them.

Until last week’s budget deal, the mayor insisted he couldn’t avert 6,100 cuts to the teaching force, including 4,100 layoffs, or other workforce cuts of 1,000. Only the unions could rescue New York with voluntary concessions.

The teachers’ union came through. Mulgrew graciously offered $60 million, by postponing sabbaticals and letting teachers without classrooms work as substitutes. City Hall massaged a few numbers to add more savings, averting the layoffs, at least.

Roberts, on the other hand, remained stubborn -- so 1,000 of her members will lose jobs.

This is a strange way to run a city -- depending on the kindness of unions to maintain services.

Sorry: It’s the mayor’s job to determine how many teachers New York needs -- and how many civilian workers it needs, too. If New York needs every last teacher it has, Bloomberg should find a way to pay for it.

If the city can’t function without every last civilian worker, either, Bloomberg’s got to find a way to make payroll whether or not Roberts cooperates.

If we don’t need all those workers, it’s Bloomberg’s job to cut staffing. Layoffs shouldn’t be a punishment, but just an unhappy part of management.

Bloomberg’s style is a throwback to another era -- the Seventies, when city and state leaders talked of shared sacrifice and union givebacks.

In much of America, political leaders have moved on. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic legislators haven’t waited for unions to cooperate.

They’ve asserted more management control over the workforce -- by passing a law that lets the government charge workers more for health care and pensions whether the workers like it or not (they don’t).

OK, Bloomberg isn’t a governor -- to do like Christie, he’d need Gov. Cuomo and state lawmakers to change state law to allow Gotham to charge workers for a portion of their health benefits, since the unions refuse to budge off “zero.”

Cuomo, too, prefers the old-school approach -- he let union leaders “buy back” threatened layoffs last week through a three-year wage freeze and higher health-care payments.

But Bloomberg hasn’t asked for help in the right change in strategy. Instead, the mayor goes out of his way to extol cooperation. Back in February, he wrote a New York Times column saying that state and local governments don’t need to “weaken” unions to get savings. Instead, the mayor counseled, “We should demand a new deal” with the unions -- “one that reflects today’s economic realities” and the fact that “taxpayers simply cannot afford to continue paying these costs, which are growing at rates far outpacing inflation.”

Ironically, it’s Bloomberg’s experience this year that may weaken support for labor. Here’s a guy who has been more than fair -- offering big raises in the good (and not-so-good) times and saying he wishes he could pay workers more.

He hasn’t gone near the changes that other cities, including Atlanta, are making -- moving new workers into 401(k) accounts instead of guaranteed pensions. But for all that, the mayor’s gotten no goodwill from union leaders in the tough times.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Bloomberg often seems confused on what to ask for -- going after a supplemental pension benefit for already-retired cops and firefighters, for example, rather than focusing on cutting that benefit for current and new employees.

Still, though, no union leader has stepped forward to agree with the mayor that pension benefits must reflect longer lifespans, or that workers should take a share of rising health-care costs away from the taxpayers, and figure out a way to get there.

Instead, they sound like Norman Seabrook, the correction officers’ union chief, who asked last week: “Why should I be the bailout package for the mayor?”

He’s right.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/meet_mayor_mulgrew_KXSHVuxZM9LSkD521J797H#ixzz1QfbNI4go

 

 
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