A fact worth proudly noting on this Labor Day: Collective bargaining is alive and well in New York.
Since America last celebrated the country’s end-of-summer holiday honoring working people, some of the city’s major private-sector unions and their employers came to terms after hard-fought bargaining.
The achievement is notable both because unionism in the general economy, as opposed to the public sector, is often thought of as a spent force and because this era of high unemployment, globalization and downward pressure demands enlightened approaches be taken on both sides of the table.
Most well -known, Con Edison locked out 8,000 members of Utility Workers Local 1-2 in July, replacing them with 5,000 managers and substitute workers. After four weeks, Gov. Cuomo used the threat posed by a massive storm to move the parties.
Con Ed ended the lockout. Then, quick bargaining produced raises of more than 10% over four years, plus bonuses. Workers kept coveted pensions, but agreed that newly hired staff would be enrolled instead in a retirement savings plan.
Far smoother talks between the city’s booming hotel industry and the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, representing 30,000 housekeepers, produced a seven-year contract calling for wages to rise 29%.
Because of the union’s long-established and visionary chain of industry-financed clinics, the workers pay nothing out of pocket for health care. The members also enjoy two negotiating advantages: their jobs can’t be outsourced and upscale hotels want to avoid downscale employees. A win-win.
After going more than a year without a contract, the District Council of Carpenters hammered out an agreement with the Association of Wall-Ceiling and Carpentry Industries, which represents employers of more than half the union’s 25,000 members.
Surrendering the right to dictate which specific members could be hired on a particular job, the council won raises, totaling almost 17% over five years, that will bring the wage and benefits package to $99 an hour.
The union also gained a guarantee that a member would be hired for every non member carpenter put on a job. An official estimated that the rule would create 1,000 new union jobs a year.
In the high-culture arena, the staggering New York City Opera worked out a pact that kept the company in business. With ticket sales expected to bring in only 14% of a $14 million budget, and with the opera’s endowment dramatically reduced, General Manager George Steele looked to the performers for givebacks.
Their unions helped out in exchange for getting a guarantee on health insurance, as well as a voice in artistic, planning and fund-raising strategies.
As Labor Day approached, construction unions reached a deal in principle with the designated developer of the $15 billion Hudson Yards project on Manhattan’s West Side.
Representatives of nearly a dozen trades agreed with Related Companies on modifications of work rules and decreased wage and benefit packages to keep the massive project a union site.
Each of these pacts should keep New Yorkers working on good union jobs for many Labor Days to come thanks to healthy give-and-take and cooperative reasoning. Well done.