NEW YORK - Even as Mayor Michael Bloomberg ladles out billions of dollars to contractors in questionable deals, the multimillionaire former businessman is trying to cut pay of 10,000 of the city's municipal trades workers. That's forced their union, AFSCME District Council 37, to battle him on both issues.
The union's response is by publicity and via Congress and courts. The council has released reports detailing the $9.2 billion-plus Bloomberg has spent on more than 18,000 contractors. And on May 22, 11 Democratic U.S. representatives asked the federal government to probe the spending, since many of these dollars are federal funds.
Meanwhile, District Council 37 and other city unions got a state judge in Manhattan to temporarily halt Bloomberg's pay and benefits "prevailing rate" changes. Those changes would have cut pay, sick leave, and vacation time for 10,000 municipal trades workers. A hearing on the case is scheduled for June 13.
"This is a morally reprehensible assault on the wages and benefits of the city's blue-collar workers - laborers, sewage treatment workers, highway repairers, locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, and more - men and women who use their smarts, their skills and their strength to do the hardest, dirtiest jobs that help make this city run," Council 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts said of Bloomberg's prevailing rate cuts.
District Council 37 has released reports, beginning in 2009, about waste and high costs in Bloomberg's contracting out plans, and showing how using city workers instead can save money. The total is more than $9 billion for at least 18,000 contracts.
Video: DC 37 holds congressional briefing
The lawmakers sent their request for a federal probe of those contracts to the Government Accountability Office on May 22. They acted just after Bloomberg announced the city had a $500 million mid-year budget gap, which he was going to close largely via a $466 million settlement with just one of the contractors.
But the lawmakers sought the GAO probe after city Comptroller John Liu's office found "fraudulent contract bidding processes, questionable payments, and lack of proper oversight." With federal dollars involved, and "without clear oversight, the time is due for a federal agency to probe into the allegations of waste," District Council 37 said.
"It is still unclear just how much New York - and federal taxpayers -have been defrauded by unsupervised contractors," it added. "In many cases, these private companies displace more qualified public employees."
Bloomberg ordered the prevailing rate cuts for the city trades workers on April 11. A month later, Supreme Court Judge Manuel Mendez halted his scheme. The unions said Bloomberg didn't follow city procedures-including public notice - before the cuts.