BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

Gonzalez: Andrew Cuomo’s minimum wage hike is an insult to low-pay workers

January 21st, 2015


The governor’s proposal would leave low-wage workers, especially those in New York City, far behind the minimum rates already approved in places like Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Cuomo has even reneged on a campaign promises he made last May to allow high-cost localities to establish a minimum wage up to 30% higher than the state’s.

Low-wage workers in New York City deserve, at best, half a loaf more of bread.

That’s the message Gov. Cuomo sent Sunday with his long-awaited proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage.

President Obama, during his State of the Union speech Tuesday, called once again for a hike in the federal minimum wage. (The current federal rate of $7.25 is a complete disgrace. It doesn’t even cover a worker’s bare necessities.)

But given the current Republican majority in Congress, Obama’s plea for federal action will go nowhere.

The only hope for millions of working poor right now is at the state and city levels. That’s why a vast popular movement for a living wage has swept the country the past few years, spearheaded by protests and walkouts by fast food and retail service workers at companies like Walmart and McDonald’s. As a result, 20 states and many cities increased their minimum wage rates this year.

So what is the response of Cuomo, the governor of an overwhelmingly Democratic state — one where 825,000 workers are currently receiving the state minimum wage of $8.75 an hour?

The governor is proposing a hike that would leave them, especially those in New York City, far behind the minimum rates already approved in places like Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

He has even reneged on a campaign promise he made last May to allow high-cost localities like New York City to establish minimums up to 30% higher than the state’s.

Cuomo wants the state minimum to reach $10.50 by Dec. 31, 2016. It was already scheduled to rise to $9 by the end of this year. And he wants to allow the city a minimum of $1 more — $11.50 an hour.

At first glance, it looks good, until you realize what’s already happened in other cities:

* San Francisco’s minimum will jump to $12.25 an hour starting May 1, and to $15-an-hour by 2018;

* Seattle’s to $11 an hour on April 1, and to $15 by 2017;

* Chicago to $10 an hour on July 1, and to $13 by 2019,

* Washington’s to $10.50 on July 1, and 11.50 next year.

Many of the new rates have annual cost-of-living adjustments.

But Cuomo’s proposal has no cost-of-living index, something he promised last May to both Mayor de Blasio and leaders of the Working Families Party when the mayor helped pressure the liberal group to endorse the governor’s reelection.

The governor’s proposed rate increase for the city amounts to almost $2 an hour less than what he promised back then, and that’s before negotiating with state Senate Republicans.

“We were dismayed to see him backtracking from the commitment he made,” said Deborah Axt, co-director of Make the Road New York and a Working Families Party activist. “His plan does not allow Long Island or other high-cost areas outside the city to set their own rates. And with no talk of indexing, we’ll be having this fight over and over again in other years.”

Mayor de Blasio’s spokesman, Phil Walzak, was less than ecstatic about the Cuomo plan.

“There is no question that reducing income inequality remains the central challenge we face today,” Walzak said in a statement. “The city looks forward to working with the governor and Legislature to build on this minimum wage proposal.”

New York’s low-wage workers, in other words, deserve more than half a loaf.

Cuomo Escalates Fights with Teacher, Public Employee Unions

January 14th, 2015

By Yancy Roy

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has escalated his fights with teacher and public employee unions that did not endorse his re-election by targeting major policy changes the unions oppose.

Cuomo, a Democrat, battled organized labor regularly during his first term over contracts and pensions. Now, just weeks after his re-election, he’s roiled the Public Employees Federation, the white-collar state employees union, by attempting to turn more than 2,500 union jobs into nonunion posts.

He has also angered the teachers’ unions by threatening to change teacher evaluations, the process for firing teachers and the probationary period for new hires, and by vetoing a bill he negotiated to slow down the impact of Common Core academic standards on teachers.

The verbal fracas has heated up over the past week.

Last Wednesday, about 75 teachers’ union members demonstrated outside the Executive Mansion in subfreezing temperatures as Cuomo, holding his traditional open house on New Year’s Eve, stoked the rhetorical fire inside.

“The teachers’ union represents the teachers. . . . I represent the students,” Cuomo said.

In his inaugural speech the next day, Cuomo was sharply critical of the performance of schools in low-income neighborhoods. “Today, we have two education systems, if we want to tell the truth — one for the rich and one for the poor,” he said at One World Trade Center in Manhattan. “If you happen to be born in the wrong ZIP code and go to a failing public school, you can get left behind and never catch up,” he said. “Public education that was the great equalizer in the society has become, in some communities, the great discriminator.” Cuomo said the initiatives aimed to make state government more efficient and improve school performance. New Year’s Eve showdown While saying he “respects teachers,” he has promised an “aggressive” education agenda this year. Among other things, he wants to address “a bad process where it takes years and years to get a bad teacher out of a classroom.” During his first four years in office, Cuomo’s push for a new teacher-evaluation process, a property-tax cap and charter schools upset teachers’ unions. His initiatives for business tax cuts, pension reductions and health-facility closures displeased state workers’ unions.

PEF fired back by endorsing Cuomo’s opponent, Fordham University Professor Zephyr Teachout, in a Democratic primary. Switch in job classification The governor last month moved to change the designation of 2,500 jobs in 42 different agencies from union to managerial, sending a letter to the potentially impacted employees. Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, said those jobs involve decision-making roles that categorize the workers as management. PEF contends the jobs — with titles such as “parole hearing officer” and “information system auditor” — have been in the union ranks for decades. Just before Christmas, the state Public Employees Relations Board asked the Cuomo administration to provide evidence requiring the classification changes, which gives PEF a chance to fight them. Benjamin said that while there is an element of electoral payback with the teachers, Cuomo’s fight in this arena is more about policy and timing. The job of state education commissioner is vacant, and though the Board of Regents, not the governor, appoints the commissioner, Cuomo has an opportunity to push for changes in education policy before the board acts, Benjamin said.

“It’s an attempt to capture the education agenda,” he said. “I think he’s trying to insert himself in a serious way. It’s a big spending area, big policy area. It’s tied to the property-tax cap, which is part of his fiscal agenda. It’s not just about the backflow of electoral politics.” New York State United Teachers declined to endorse Cuomo or Republican Rob Astorino in this year’s election. But it went a step further by fighting to block Cuomo from getting the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization for numerous labor groups. Cuomo has made schools a battleground since taking office. “Ineffective,” Cuomo once said in a 2012 Newsday interview when asked to describe, in a word, how he viewed the state’s school system upon taking office. “Here’s another word: wasteful. Bureaucratic. Commercialized.” Eyeing education reforms The Cuomo administration signaled last month that he’ll try to make education changes this year. Jim Malatras, Cuomo’s director of state operations, sent a letter on behalf of the administration to state Education Department officials questioning the validity of a teacher-evaluation formula that found 98 percent of instructors “effective” or “highly effective,” and knocking the “education bureaucracy” as the “enemy of change.” The letter also questioned whether a governor should have more power over education. Currently, the board is elected by the State Legislature, which means it’s effectively controlled by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) because his conference by far has the most members.

NYSUT countered that the governor was “clueless” about education and was “beholden” to hedge-fund billionaires who backed charter schools and donated to the Democrat’s campaign. It said the governor’s focus on teachers overlooks the learning deficits and poverty that hamper some students. State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the exchange signals a heated battle in the first year of the governor’s second term. “It’s like happy holidays and fasten your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen,” Flanagan said last month on The Capitol Pressroom, a public radio program originating in Albany. “It’s going to be a little bit of a wild ride early on.”

Port Authority should sell B’klyn marine terminals, says CBC

January 13th, 2015


Selling the terminals would help the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey close its ports division’s annual deficit, a report by the Citizens Budget Commission says.

(Bloomberg) — The Port Authority should close and sell two money-losing marine terminals in Brooklyn to help close annual deficits at its ports division that may reach $107 million in 2029, according to a report.

Selling the Red Hook Container Terminal and the Brooklyn-Port Authority Marine Terminal to a housing developer in the gentrifying borough would generate cash to help stem the losses, according to a report released Tuesday by the Citizens Budget Commission. The Port Authority should also support efforts by shippers to negotiate cuts to the number of longshoremen who load and unload ships and royalties they pay to their union, according to the business-backed watchdog group.

“The Port Authority’s maritime facilities have a long history of running deficits and no prospect of making money in the near future,” Carol Kellerman, president of the CBC, said in a statement. “Greater efficiencies must, therefore, be explored.”

The operations of the 94-year-old Port Authority of New York & New Jersey have come under increasing scrutiny since allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, closed lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013, causing four days of gridlock in a town whose Democratic mayor hadn’t endorsed the governor for re-election.
Two governors

Last month, Mr. Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation passed unanimously in both their legislatures that would have brought greater public accountability and transparency to an agency marked by patronage and secrecy, according to lawmakers.

Instead Messrs. Christie and Cuomo, a New York Democrat, accepted management changes recommended by a special panel they created to reorganize the agency. The panel also reviewed the ports and some of the agency’s other major assets.

The Port Authority’s bridges, tunnels and airports, which generated more than $1 billion in operating income, subsidize money-losing operations like commuter rail, which lost almost $320 million last year, and a bus terminal in Manhattan. The special panel’s report also suggested redeveloping or selling underperforming assets such as Red Hook.
Panama canal

While known mostly for its airports and Times Square bus terminal, the Port Authority runs the busiest port on the East Coast. More than 3 million containers are unloaded at its six terminals each year, serving 23 million consumers.
The Port Authority has spent more than $2.7 billion over the past 11 years to deepen channels, build intermodal rail facilities and widen roads around the terminals.

It’s investing another $1.3 billion to raise the Bayonne Bridge Bridge 60 feet so that bigger ships coming through the a widened Panama Canal can pass under the span, which connects the New Jersey city to New York’s Staten Island.

New York’s ports face stiff competition from facilities in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. In 2013, the New York ports lost about $80 million from operations, interest and other expenses, less than 2% of the agency’s total revenue.

Building housing at the ports in Brooklyn, where the median sale price of condominiums, co-ops and single-family homes climbed to a record of almost $590,000 last year, may be a better use for the Brooklyn-Port Authority Marine Terminal in Cobble Hill and the Red Hook Container Terminal, the CBC said.

The Brooklyn facilities lost $205,718 and $184,788 per acre, respectively, and closing them would yield $29 million in annual savings by 2029, according to the CBC report. They account for less than 9% of the Port Authority’s cargo volume, the agency’s financial statements show.

The Port Authority might also seek to replicate the transformation of the Brooklyn Navy Yard into a modern industrial park. The yard is home to more than 230 businesses that employ 7,000 people, according to the CBC report.

Outside the Spotlight, Bill de Blasio Wages a War on Inequality

January 13th, 2015

NY times small

A year ago, just days into his tenure as New York City’s 109th mayor, Bill de Blasio fell under criticism for his approach to eating pizza, one that depended on cutlery. That this minor peculiarity became a matter of mass media interest — Jon Stewart, Time magazine, The Guardian all weighed in obsessively — only confirmed Mr. de Blasio’s status as a national celebrity. He had been elected by a wide margin, promising to rectify the imbalances of an ever more economically divided city. On the right were predictions that Mr. de Blasio’s progressive commitments would return the city to the anarchy of the 1970s; elsewhere was the concern that we were now to be led by someone dull and dismissible. And yet we haven’t ended up in an era of another Abe Beame.

During Mr. de Blasio’s first year in office, the crime rate in the city went down, not up, even as stop-and-frisk tactics were curtailed. At the same time, fears among centrists that Mr. de Blasio lacked a commanding presence and would reflexively submit to unions, no matter their demands, should now seem to be at least partly mollified by his contentious dealings with the police, a constituency he has been disinclined to coddle.

By the end of 2014, perhaps unforeseeably, the defining fissures in the city were not those between rich and poor but those between supporters of the police unions, like the tabloids that worship law-enforcement culture, and those who feel that criticism of the police is not synonymous with the belief that criminals should have free rein. Ultimately, what the police perceived as betrayal was the mayor’s refusal to celebrate the grand jury decision that vindicated the actions of the officer who put Eric Garner, a Staten Island man suspected of selling cigarettes illegally, in a chokehold that resulted in his death in July.

What police officers don’t appear to see is that their collective tantrum, one intended to alienate the mayor from his citizenry, runs the risk of having precisely the opposite effect — uniting progressives with centrists who may have been wary of Mr. de Blasio but who now find the officers’ actions, their work slowdown and other more theatrical displays of defiance, childish and deplorable.

This would amount to a blessing for a mayor who has often had a difficult time mining political capital from his policy maneuvers. Beyond its big initiatives — the expansion of universal prekindergarten and of paid sick leave — the new administration has done little to tout its many other efforts in the fight against inequality. And these efforts don’t easily register in a city where $50 million condominium listings continue to be commonplace, soaring commercial rents drive beloved institutions into oblivion and the ultrarich still seem to be taking up all the room in the dance hall.

In August, despite the mayor’s strained relationship with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and despite sparring with state officials over the issue, the city managed to negotiate a deal totaling close to $140 million to help subsidize rents for homeless families. The dissolution of a similar but poorly managed program toward the end of the Bloomberg administration had disastrous consequences that still resonate today, advocates for the homeless have argued. Rates of homelessness remain at record highs because of prior policies, but with the new subsidy having gained momentum at the end of the year, 5,000 families are expected to move out of shelters in 2015, said Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless.

“Things are very much looking up,” Mr. Markee said.

Beyond that, in July the new administration reversed a longstanding policy that failed to prioritize homeless families for apartments belonging to the city’s Housing Authority. And the authority itself, long neglected under the Bloomberg administration, has been the recipient of increased city funds, with tens of millions of dollars going toward maintenance, repairs and enhanced security.

By the end of November, the city had financed the construction of nearly 3,900 units of affordable housing and the preservation of more than 7,500 others. By the end of December, it reached its goal of 16,000 units. The city has doubled the capital budget of its Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Of the 200,000 units of affordable housing it plans to create over the next decade, 20 percent would go to families with household incomes of $40,000 a year or less. In recent years much has been made of the fact that affordability in the context of housing is a euphemistic and relative term and that affordable housing initiatives skew in favor of the middle class. In fact, only 11 percent of units in the city’s plan are designated for families with household incomes of $97,000 to $138,000.

There have been other moves too, seemingly small in scope and beyond notice. For instance, provisions in certain municipal contracts have been introduced that dedicate funds for career development and education, which will enhance prospects of mobility. Mr. de Blasio was elected on his rhetoric of the tale of two cities. That tale is a continuing story in New York, but it is a story that can now be read with some hope that the ending won’t turn out so dismally.

Despite Veto, Sponsors of Port Authority Bill Continue Push for Reform

December 29th, 2014

ALBANY — A day after the governors of New York and New Jersey rejected legislation aimed at upending a culture of political interference at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bill’s bistate sponsors said they were determined to move ahead with reforms, albeit at a pace they deemed too slow for the controversy-prone agency.

The veto, announced Saturday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, defied unanimous support for the bill by all four houses of the two State Legislatures. The governors’ actions also came as prosecutors continue to investigate the politically motivated lane closings at the George Washington Bridge last year, a scandal that tarnished Mr. Christie’s reputation and that of the authority.

Despite the unanimity of the legislators in Albany and Trenton, however, and despite the torrent of criticism they unleashed after the governors’ announcement, the bill’s backers said on Sunday that prospects for overriding the veto seemed slim at best. Neither Legislature has accomplished that feat with Mr. Cuomo, who was elected to a second term in November, or during Mr. Christie’s nearly five years in office.

And with only days left in the current legislative term in New York, that streak was not likely to be broken. That left officials to sift through the reform recommendations the two governors put forth as they quashed the bill, some of which drew praise for reducing the governors’ political influence at the agency and others of which have already attracted withering criticism.

“An override is not practical,” said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York Assembly. “We still think legislation is needed and we will work with our colleagues in both states to bring increased accountability to the Port Authority.”

In New Jersey, sponsors also conceded that the makeup of the State Senate — where Democrats hold more seats, but not the supermajority needed to reverse a veto — was likely to scotch any override. While the legislation passed unanimously, Republican legislators have been known to switch positions on an issue rather than risk crossing Mr. Christie.

At least one prominent Republican lawmaker, State Senator Thomas H. Kean Jr. of New Jersey, the Republican leader, has already embraced the governors’ alternate solution: a set of recommendations made by a special panel the governors formed in May. Those proposals include adopting a single chief executive, a new mission statement and a new official overseeing ethics — “a better and enhanced approach,” Mr. Kean said on Sunday.

As recently as two years ago, Mr. Christie vetoed a Port Authority transparency bill that had been passed in the wake of a controversial toll increase. That bill’s sponsors, who also sponsor the current bill, talked of an override, but never made good on their threat.

Still, on Sunday, the sponsors were mulling other options, including possible legislation at the federal level.

The bills vetoed on Saturday were identically written in both states and meant to codify a raft of new financial, ethical and administrative rules for authority officials into law. Legislators said the rules were necessary, in part, to cut the power both governors wield over the authority, including the ability to reward politically connected officials with patronage jobs and allies with lucrative contracts.

But the authority’s chairman, John J. Degnan, who served on the panel, dismissed most of the bill’s reforms as outdated or redundant. “I think we’re building an automobile, and they’re trying to put on taillights,” he said, calling the governors’ recommendations “transformational.”

Proposals in the bill like establishing a whistle-blower program, creating an inspector general’s office and requiring the authority to hold meetings in public have already taken root, he said, questioning why legislators had failed to consult authority staff members when drawing up the bill.

But State Senator Loretta Weinberg of New Jersey, the leader of the Democratic majority and one of the bill’s sponsors, said the recommendations had left out important changes, including requiring commissioners to attend certain hearings.

“These two guys let down the people of the states they govern,” she said. “That shouldn’t surprise me. They’ve been part and parcel of the excesses at the Port Authority.”

Moreover, the bill’s sponsors said, actual laws were needed to hold the authority accountable. Without them, future administrators could simply amend the rules to suit their own interests.

“A law is a law is a law,” said Assemblyman James F. Brennan of Brooklyn, who sponsored the bill in New York’s lower chamber, noting the laws could permit state attorneys general to pursue infractions.

Mr. Degnan said he agreed, and would be willing to work with lawmakers to write a new bill. Indeed, Mr. Brennan and his New Jersey counterparts seemed resigned to the fact that the bill would have to be resubmitted and passed again.

As lawmakers and authority officials sparred over ethics reforms, one of the governors’ other recommendations, eliminating overnight service on the PATH trains, quickly came under fire from the mayors of Hoboken and Jersey City, whose rapid growth has depended on trains to Manhattan. They said reducing commuter options would hobble New Jersey’s struggling economy.

Mayor Steven M. Fulop of Jersey City said the veto’s timing suggested the governors’ move was nothing more than a “power grab.”

“The panel started as a way to root out corruption, not to limit mass transportation,” he said.


In Battle Pitting Cablevision Chief Against Union, Neither Appears Ready to Relent

December 29th, 2014

He is one of New York’s wealthiest men, but also one of its most reviled. James L. Dolan, the chief executive of Cablevision, owns and is accountable for the underwhelming New York Knicks. He controls Madison Square Garden, a major impediment to the creation of a more inviting Penn Station. Even the rock ‘n’ roll band he leads gets little respect.

Yet all that opprobrium seems to bother Mr. Dolan less than something to which other billionaires might not give a second thought: a labor union that represents 270 Cablevision technicians in Brooklyn.

Mr. Dolan’s opposition to the union — and the union’s equally fierce resolve to defend its small foothold in a company that employs more than 15,000 workers — has made for one of the more acrimonious labor disputes in recent New York City history: a three-year running battle with hostilities playing out in street protests, full-page newspaper ads and interventions by the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Though it has not gone Mr. Dolan’s way, he shows no sign of relenting. In an interview, he insisted that he did not dislike unions; he said he worked well with the stagehands and electricians at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. But he said the Communications Workers of America, the union representing the Brooklyn technicians, was undermining efficiency by demanding to bargain over much of what Cablevision does.

Judging from the tough talk on both sides, the fight has gone far beyond substantive issues.

“They’re trying to tear the company down,” Mr. Dolan said of the union’s leaders. “They’ve been reckless, and they lie a lot.”

His opposite number, Chris Shelton, the president of the communications workers in New York, was equally disdainful of Mr. Dolan, saying in an interview: “The problem here is Dolan isn’t acting like a businessman. He’s acting like a crazy man.”

Neither would dispute that Mr. Dolan has tenaciously pursued one goal in recent months: to have the National Labor Relations Board organize a “decertification” election in which the Cablevision chief hopes a majority of the Brooklyn technicians will vote to oust the union.

But the labor board — which Mr. Dolan calls a “tool of the C.W.A.” and of “big labor” — has not been inclined to favor him. Rather, it asserts, Cablevision has violated the law so many times in battling the union that it has poisoned the atmosphere and made a fair vote impossible.

Mr. Dolan maintains that the union, desperate to prevent a decertification election, has repeatedly and without any basis accused Cablevision of breaking labor laws so that the board would continue to block a vote.

“They’re looking for ways to damage the company, to stop the election from happening,” he said, “and they’ll grasp for anything and twist whatever they can to try to do that.”

The labor board, however, has found ample basis for many of the union’s allegations.

Last month, a board judge ruled that Cablevision had unlawfully discharged 22 pro-union technicians. The board has also accused Mr. Dolan of illegally threatening to deny the Brooklyn workers a raise and valuable training if they voted to keep their union.

The current conflict erupted in January 2012, when the Brooklyn technicians voted 180 to 86 to join the communication workers’ union. Soon after — in the run-up to a similar vote by Cablevision workers in the Bronx — the company gave all its workers except the Brooklyn technicians raises of $2 to $9 an hour.

The labor board later accused Cablevision of unlawfully timing those raises to sway the Bronx vote. The Bronx workers rejected the union, 121 to 43.

Mr. Dolan said the raises for other workers in 2012 were part of a companywide plan to adjust pay. The Brooklyn workers, he said, did not receive increases because their union had failed to negotiate a new contract.

But the union’s leaders accuse Mr. Dolan of deliberately failing to reach an agreement on a contract that included raises so that workers would sour on the union.

“They’re just playing games at the bargaining table,” Mr. Shelton said. “Part of what we’re asking for is parity. They’ve raised salaries except for those who have a union card in their pocket.”

The labor board has rejected the union’s claims that Cablevision was bargaining in bad faith.

The struggle between Mr. Dolan and the union entered racially charged territory over the dismissal in August of a black field technician, Jerome Thompson, who indirectly compared Cablevision to a slave ship during a company meeting about the rebranding its Optimum service.

The labor board has charged Cablevision with illegally firing Mr. Thompson in retaliation for being an outspoken union supporter. Cablevision officials say he was fired for being late to work nine times, making too many calls on his company phone and backing his truck into a company garage door.

Union officials say the company informed them that Mr. Thompson had been dismissed in part because of his remarks about slavery.

In response, the union distributed fliers suggesting that Mr. Thompson’s treatment was racially motivated, an accusation that Mr. Dolan has added to his pile of grievances.

“All I get from the other side is a continuing hurling of defamation and insults,” he said.

Undeterred, Mr. Dolan took his message directly to the Brooklyn technicians in September with a speech that the labor board later asserted had run afoul of the law.

Inside a Cablevision garage in Brooklyn, he argued that the union was impeding efficiency and warned that the company would hesitate to offer the workers job training because of concern that the union would seek to bargain about it. He said the union’s demands — including seniority rules and grievance procedures — came at a sizable cost that made it hard to give the Brooklyn technicians wage parity with Cablevision’s other workers.

“Your representatives have asked for more things than what the other employees are getting, and that has to come from somewhere,” Mr. Dolan said, according to a transcript provided by the union. “They’re essentially asking for a better deal than what everybody else at the company has.”

The day after Mr. Dolan spoke, Cablevision sponsored a nonbinding vote, overseen by an outside group, in which the Brooklyn technicians voted 129 to 115 to dump the union. Mr. Dolan trumpeted the victory in full-page ads calling on Mr. de Blasio — who had spoken in support of the union’s organizing efforts at Cablevision — to repudiate the union.

But the labor board subsequently accused Cablevision of illegally using the nonbinding vote to undermine the union’s representation of the Brooklyn workers. The labor board also said that in his speech, Mr. Dolan illegally threatened to withhold raises and training unless the workers voted to drop the union.

“In all my years, I can’t remember a C.E.O. so involved in an anti-union fight and personally committing all these labor-law violations,” Mr. Shelton said. “He poisoned the well here. He held a sham vote that no one except him believes is true.”

With no end to the conflict in sight, Mr. Dolan and the union seem locked in a painful embrace. He has been unable to dislodge it or get the labor board to back down; the Brooklyn technicians are no closer to getting a raise. And the sniping shows no sign of ceasing.

Mr. Shelton, the union president, marveled at Mr. Dolan’s persistence, before suggesting that it was a sign of a deeper character flaw.

“Any other businessman would have long ago decided that instead of spending millions on lawyers to fight the union, he would sit down and bargain a fair contract with us and try to help his employees,” Mr. Shelton said. “That’s not what Dolan is about. He’s about complete and absolute control of everything he oversees. He thinks he’s running a kingdom, not a company.”


State looks to pull 1,000 employees out of PEF

December 16th, 2014

By Rick Karlin

In a move that has sent shock waves through the state’s unionized workforce, the Cuomo administration on Monday sent notices to about 1,000 members of the Public Employees Federation telling them the state is seeking to reclassify the recipients as non-union workers.

The notices went to people in more than three dozen state agencies, including the departments of Environmental Conservation, Labor, Health, Housing and Motor Vehicles, the Office of General Services, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and more.

Affected job titles range from attorneys to auditors, program specialists, parole hearing officers and tax law judges.

The notices said that the state has filed with the Public Employment Relations Board to reclassify the jobs as managerial/confidential rather than unionized positions.

Employees who were handed the notices were asked to sign them on the spot to acknowledge that they received them, although not everyone complied.

“We were just handed this,” one union member said of the notices.

PEF officials later in the day emailed members saying they will resist the attempt to pull the workers out of the union.

“Be assured we will be fighting this,” union President Susan Kent told members in an email.

Under state Civil Service law, the state can seek to reclassify unionized workers but needs permission of the appointed Public Employment Relations Board to do so.

“The state has determined, upon review of the titles contained in its petition and the job duties that these positions perform, that they meet the criteria for designation as management confidential,” said Edward Walsh, spokesman for the Department of Civil Service, in an email.

Such reclassifications aren’t unknown, especially as a union’s contract draws to a close. State officials are supposed to seek reclassifications within eight months of an expiring contract. PEF’s current contract expires at the end of March.

The scope and number of positions that would be affected by this request was unusually large. It also comes weeks after an Albany County State Supreme Court ruled that 250 managerial-confidential jobs should fall under union protection.

The Cuomo administration and PEF had been disputing the status of those jobs since March 2013, and PERB eventually ruled for unionization. The state then sued but lost in trial court. The state could appeal and if that happens the status of those employees may not be decided until next year. Some on Monday wondered if the move was in retaliation for that battle.

Another theory about the latest move centered on whether the state is simply trying to weaken PEF by reducing the union’s approximately 54,000 members by 1,000.

Others wondered if the governor is angry at PEF’s endorsement in September of Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law school professor who challenged Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.


National Labor Relations Board Permits Employees to Use Workplace Email Systems for Union Activity

December 15th, 2014

In a landmark 3-2 decision, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) reversed its own precedent and found that employees now have a presumptive right to use their employer’s email system to engage in communications relating to concerted activity protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act—including union organizing—during nonworking time. Purple Communications, Inc., 361 NLRB No. 126 (Dec. 11, 2014). According to the Board, an employer may rebut the presumption by demonstrating that special circumstances necessary to maintain production or discipline justify restricting employee rights, although the Board stated that these exceptions will be “rare.” The ruling is the latest pro-union decision from the Board, and carries significant consequences for employers everywhere because of the importance of workplace email and the prevalence of policies restricting the use of business email for nonwork purposes.

The NLRB previously held in Register Guard, 351 NLRB 1110 (2007), that an employer may prohibit nonwork-related use of its email system, so long as the employer does not discriminate against concerted activity. In Purple Communications, the Board considered a policy that was lawful under Register Guard and prohibited employees from using “the computer, internet, voicemail, and email systems . . . in connection with . . . activities on behalf of organizations or persons with no professional or business affiliation with the Company” or from “sending uninvited email of a personal nature.” The Board overruled Register Guard and found that the employer’s policy was illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. In doing so, the Board primarily relied on an almost 70-year-old Supreme Court case, Republic Aviation, 324 U.S. 793 (1945), which found that employees had a right to solicit one another for Section 7 purposes (including union organizing) on nonworking time, absent special circumstances. The Board found that this same rule applied to employer email systems, so that employees can presumptively use email for Section 7 purposes on nonworking time, “absent a particularized showing of special circumstances regarding the employer’s need to maintain production and discipline.”

The Board emphasized that the special circumstances exception to justify a complete ban on nonwork email use “will be the rare case.” The Board did find that employers are still free to implement and enforce uniform and consistent controls, “such as prohibiting large attachments or audio/video segments, if the employer can demonstrate they would interfere with the email system’s efficient functioning.”

In its decision, the Board also distinguished a long line of cases that previously had found that employees did not have a Section 7 right to use employer property such as bulletin boards, telephones, fax and copy machines, and public address systems. The Board held that “employee email use will rarely interfere with others’ use of the email system or add significant incremental usage costs” and that “email systems function as an ongoing and interactive means of employee communication in a way that other, older types of equipment clearly cannot.” More ominously, the Board refashioned the “broad pronouncements” in those cases as nonbinding dicta, and stated that the reasoning which prohibited employee use of the telephone system was also “unpersuasive,” though the Board left that issue for another day.

The most vexing issue for employers going forward, as pointed out by NLRB member Philip A. Miscimarra’s dissent, is likely differentiating between “working” and “nonworking” time for sending emails. After all, due to the very nature of email, employees frequently intertwine nonbusiness emails about sports, shopping, and family life with work emails to colleagues. Drawing the line between the two is challenging and far different from the types of nonworking-time solicitations in Republic Aviation, which usually take place in a defined area like an employee break room or cafeteria. The very notion that “working time is for work” appears to be under attack by the Board’s ruling.

Employers should immediately review their employee handbooks and policies for rules that are inconsistent with the NLRB’s decision. The NLRB has long held that the mere promulgation of an unlawful work rule violates the NLRA, even if the rule is never enforced against an employee. Indeed, in Purple Communications there was no allegation that the work rule in question was used to discipline an employee. Instead, the case originated in connection with a union’s objections to an unsuccessful election.

Purple Communications again demonstrates the Board’s aggressive pro-labor agenda. As a result of this decision, employers can expect union organizers to encourage employees to send work emails advocating for labor unions and then file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB if the employer disciplines the employee for doing so, even if the employer believes that the email was sent on working time. Employer policies previously lawful under Register Guard also will be the subject of charges from the Board. As a result, it is critical that employers work closely with their labor counsel to develop appropriate policies consistent with the new rule and implement a proactive labor relations approach that prevents unnecessary NLRB litigation.

If you have any questions about this alert or how it may impact your business, please contact any member of BakerHostetler’s Labor Relations team.


BakerHostetler’s Labor Relations Team


City reaches deal with principals’ union

December 8th, 2014

By Eliza Shapiro, Sally Goldenberg and Clifford Michel

Continuing a pattern of salary raises it established with the United Federation of Teachers, the de Blasio administration has settled a thorny dispute with the principals’ union in its nine-year contract, an $891 million deal with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (C.S.A.)

The contract will cover the period from 2010 through 2019 and be offset, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s aides, by $147.5 million the union is required to come up with in health care savings, as well as money from an existing reserve known as the “stabilization fund.”

De Blasio announced the deal at the C.S.A.’s annual conference at a Hilton hotel in Midtown Manhattan on Saturday afternoon.

“This is a good contract, this is a fair contract,” de Blasio said Saturday. “Given the hard work you do, you will get fair pay. … At the same time, we will protect the city’s fiscal health.”

The announcement followed a contract dispute between the administration and the union involving retroactive pay for some principals who had been promoted from teaching positions. Logan made the details of the dispute public in September, sending a memo to his members calling on the city to resolve what he called the “major stumbling block” of back-pay for 1,900 principals who were promoted from teaching positions to principal positions since 2009.

In a show of the strained relationship, Logan declined to join de Blasio on his five-borough tour of pre-kindergarten centers on the first day of school.

De Blasio was met with thunderous applause on Saturday when he announced that the newly settled contract includes retroactive pay for those 1,900 employees.

“Over these months Ernie [Logan] has driven a hard bargain,” de Blasio said, to applause from the audience. “There was always at the same time a spirit of partnership.”

The deal offers a total of 8 percent raises retroactively for 2010 and 2011—the years the union did not receive two 4 percent increases under the previous administration because of stalled negotiations. In addition, the workers will receive 10 percent in wage increases dating back to September 6, 2013 and ending October 6, 2018.

Those will be granted in the following installments: two increases of 1 percent a year for 2013 and 2014, a 1.5 percent raise in 2016, a 2.5 percent raise in 2017 and a 4 percent raise in 2018. In 2015, salaries will remain flat, according to figures provided by the mayor’s office. The principals will also receive a $1,000 signing bonus.

The retroactive pay—which the city calls “restructured payments,” because they are only afforded to those still in the workforce or retirees, and not those who quit or are fired—will be doled in installments. In 2016, union members will receive 12.5 percent of the total. They’ll get another 12.5 percent in 2018 and 25 percent each year in 2019 through 2021. In addition, they will get the back pay restored into their salaries over four years, at 2 percent a year, beginning in 2015 and ending in 2018.

Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, public advocate Letitia James, City Council education committee chairman Daniel Dromm, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and other elected officials also attended Saturday’s conference. Fariña delivered brief remarks, thanking principals for their hard work.

“We’re not fighting each other,” she said. “We will have disagreements, that is the nature of the game, but the amount of conversations we that have around substantial issues because we all want to build a legacy that says we left the city and our schools in particular better than when we found them.”

The contract provides supports for pre-existing educational initiatives, several of which were created in the U.F.T. contract.

As a supplement to the “ambassador program” created in the U.F.T. contract, which pairs experienced teachers with struggling schools, the C.S.A. contract will provide bonuses of $15,000 to principals and $10,000 to assistant principals to help turn around struggling schools.

De Blasio cited this principal ambassador program when he unveiled the city’s plan to support low-performing schools.

The contract will also provide more support for the city’s “Prose” schools, a select group of 200 schools that can operate outside of certain union regulations.

The contract also creates “model” and “master” principal roles, based on similar roles for experienced teachers created in the U.F.T. contract.

Highly experienced principals and assistant principals will be offered between $10,000 and $25,000 bonuses to coach their fellow school leaders in effective management.

The principals’ union had been without a contract since March 2010, and negotiations for this contract have been ongoing since the summer. De Blasio said the contract had been finalized Friday night. There are approximately 6,000 principals and assistant principals in the union. The contract still needs to be approved by the union’s membership.

With this deal, the administration has now reached labor agreements with 67 percent of its workforce, de Blasio’s office said. When he took office on Jan. 1, every municipal union was operating under expired contacts after a breakdown in talks with the Bloomberg administration.

The mayor and his labor commissioner, Bob Linn, reached an agreement with the U.F.T. in May. Every contract since has followed that pattern of raises and, for unions like the U.F.T. and C.S.A., the 8 percent back pay has been awarded in full.

Linn faces an uphill battle with the uniform workers—namely the police and fire unions that did receive the 8 percent under Bloomberg and are upset with a contract that keep their wages flat for 18 months. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is in binding arbitration with the city, meaning a three-member panel established by the state will now settle the dispute.

Other unions are holding off on settling their contracts, in hopes that the P.B.A. will alter the pattern.


December 5th, 2014

letitia james

By NYC Public Advocate Letitia James

As 2014 draws to a close and we prepare to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, I’m reminded of how we came into this year with so much excitement and room for hope. We had a new progressive government for our city, which I’ve been honored to be a part of, and we finally began to work through some long-neglected issues of social justice and fairness, beginning with reforming stop and frisk.

Yesterday’s terribly unjust decision from the Grand Jury regarding the death of Eric Garner, however, reminds me of how much work remains to be done, and how far we remain from the constructive relationship of trust that we so desperately need between our law enforcement officers and communities of color throughout our city. As the first African American woman elected to citywide office, this has been an especially poignant and troubling moment for me.

I was saddened and angered yesterday, as were many of you, and my thoughts and prayers remain first and foremost with Eric Garner’s family, who are now forced to relive this trauma anew, and have had their grief compounded by a profound sense of injustice. With them, with civic and community leaders nationwide, and with the thousands of protesters who have peacefully taken to the streets, I look forward to the outcome of the Federal civil rights investigation announced yesterday by Attorney General Eric Holder.

For all of us, the most important thing we can do right now is to channel our anger and frustration into constructive action. A routine street encounter between an unarmed civilian and the police should never, ever result in that civilian’s death—period. My office will continue to push for reforms that will not only bring similar abuses to light but help to ensure accountability and avoid yet another miscarriage of justice. I urge you to join with me on this crucial endeavor and to continue to make your voices heard—peacefully, constructively, but loud and clear.