New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took office with all of the city’s nearly 350,000 unionized municipal workers working under expired labor contracts. By 2017, more than 99 percent were under contract. New York City Director of Labor Relations Bob Linn led that effort, and he’ll be doing it all over again as many of those contracts expire. He talked to City & State about tussling with the police union, negotiating with NYCHA workers and why he’s watching the U.S. Supreme Court.
C&S: Members of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association protested New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio when he was having breakfast last week. Why does the PBA always seem to give City Hall and the de Blasio administration so much trouble?
BL: It’s probably incorrect to say the de Blasio administration. Since (Patrick) Lynch has been head of the union, they’ve gone to arbitration four times. Once with Giuliani, two with Bloomberg and once with us. And before that, Lynch’s predecessors went to arbitration also numerous times. A negotiated settlement with the PBA is highly unusual! … In fact, we have settled most of the years of labor contracts that we’ve had in dispute with the PBA.
C&S: What’s the latest with PBA contract negotiations?
BL: Just a year ago, we reached a five-year settlement with them. Often that would lead to a bargaining hiatus for a while, but we started negotiations soon after the five-year labor agreement. We had a number of bargaining sessions with the union. The union then went to PERB (the state Public Employment Relations Board) and said we were at an impasse after three bargaining sessions, or maybe four. … We’ve just completed the three mediation sessions with PERB, at which point the PBA, I think on Friday (March 23), said that they asked PERB to assign an arbitrator. We didn’t receive the papers formally until (Monday, March 26).
C&S: If you reached a five-year settlement, why are you already negotiating the next contract?
BL: The five-year settlement was largely retroactive. The last collective bargaining agreement that covered the police before we arrived ended in 2010. And so we then added arbitration, but though the arbitration was in this administration, it only covered the period 2010-2012. Because arbitration under the PERB statute can’t be for more than two years unless the parties agree it can be longer than two years. So we had an arbitration award that basically held the police to the city’s labor patterns covering 2010-2012. And then we negotiated last year a settlement for five more years that went through 2017. So the contract was over soon after we negotiated it.
C&S: In March, Politico New York wrote about the generous contract for Teamsters Local 237 workers at the New York City Housing Authority, suggesting it contributes to deferred maintenance and cost overruns. Could we expect a change to their contract after the current one expires on May 29?
BL: The major issue that the city would like to move forward on is we believe we should be providing (maintenance and custodial) services to tenants on a much broader basis than just Monday to Friday, 8 (a.m.) to 4:30 (p.m.). … Those are issues that management has brought to the table and we think are legitimate. We worked with NYCHA (in the) last round of bargaining to establish a pilot program where we started trying to expand (the) hours, and I think that we were able in a number of the NYCHA – I think about 10 or a dozen – locations to expand the workday into the evening. We tried to do it through a voluntary approach with workers and we had mixed success. I think we all learned from our approach last time and intend to bring to the bargaining table the need to expand our approach to delivery of services to tenants. And I expect that we will be successful in this next round of bargaining of expanding our ability to deliver services in a timely basis.
C&S: Getting all the city workers under contract was a big achievement for you, and something the mayor was very proud of. But what’s your strategy now? A lot of unions chose to work on expired contracts in Bloomberg’s last term, preferring to negotiate with a new administration. Do you expect that to happen again?
BL: Our intent was to change the labor-management relationship from the past. To work collaboratively, to work constructively and to reach timely labor settlements. We effectively did that with all of the open labor agreements. It is my hope that we now move forward with a number of traditional settlements and continue the process where city workers were working under labor agreements. I think it is much better to have contracts settled and workers living under completed labor agreements than constantly waiting for the future. So my hope is that we can indeed reach a new set of agreements and that we’ll have a successful round of collective bargaining coming up.
C&S: How is your office preparing for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which could impact the ability of unions to collect dues from members?
BL: We in New York City are firmly committed to collective bargaining. We believe in collective bargaining. We believe in the give and take of the labor relations process. So we will be supportive of the unions to help them make sure that they have the ability to collect dues from their members and that they can participate in active labor negotiations as they do and as I think they will continue to do.