No mayor in recent history has enjoyed a better reputation among the trades than Bill de Blasio. No one would ever accuse him of not being on labor’s side, right?
One union, the New York City District Council of Carpenters, would take issue with that. They have sued the city to stop a negotiating tactic which they say is unfair. So far, the state Supreme Court has taken their side, too. The Municipal Labor Committee is backing them as well in what appears to be an unusual showdown for the de Blasio administration.
When the de Blasio administration arrived, it had to negotiate contracts with 152 unions. It successfully and fairly did so by 2017 with all of the trades except one – the carpenters. Negotiations have dragged on and are still not completed.
The issue at hand is the action taken by the Mayor to force the union’s hand. The office of Labor Relations unilaterally reduced the paid time off to nothing and stopped annuity payments.
This was definitely a hardball tactic to force a new contract. But according to the700 member strong carpenters, backed by the Labor Committee, this was way over the line.
The governing standard
When a collective bargaining contract is under negotiation, the old contract and its terms are still valid. In this case, the carpenters have been without a contract for ten years now. Pay is set by the prevailing wage law, and is not in dispute. But paid time off is more flexible in a situation like this.
The city comptroller found that based on prevailing wages the carpenters were overpaid from 2008 to 2014. They further claimed that they could recoup the money lost from this by restricting PTO and other benefits.
This seems to be a clear violation of the Triborough Doctrine, which prohibits cutting benefits in the middle of negotiations.
The case so far
The carpenters claim this is unfair and demand to see the audit which supposedly justifies this action. So far, a state Supreme Court judge has sided with them on half of the PTO and issued a temporary restraining order to block further action.
All of the city’s trades are watching this case very carefully to see how it turns out. Obviously, a new contract has to be negotiated to correct the situation. In 61 mediation sessions no contact has been produced to date, and the carpenters remain the one trade working for the city without one.
As the hardball tactics continue, it’s not clear exactly where this is going for the carpenters and the trades which support them. With the courts on their side so far they appear to have the upper hand. Strong representation is the key to successful negotiations, and with a strong commitment from the mayor a new contract should be forthcoming.