January 13, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The last several years have, indeed, been long and cold ones for Harry Nespoli, chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee and head of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association. But in a few short weeks, the influential labor leader expects to be joining members of the de Blasio administration at the negotiating table with the goal of finally helping to settle expired contracts for some 300,000 municipal workers.
"That's what I'm anxious to do," Nespoli told LaborPress. "I'm excited to go in there and conduct negotiations the way we've always done negotiations before."
Echoing the sentiments of many in the labor movement, Nespoli says that "a big cloud over City Hall has lifted" with the departure of former Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
"[Mayor Bloomberg] didn't want to do any contracts," Nespoli says. "You can't tell me that with a $7 billion surplus for four years, he couldn't turn around and settle one of the contracts – because I know the unions wanted to settle the contracts."
For the last five years or more, Municipal workers, including nurses and teachers, have been working with expired contracts, leaving many hardworking families trying to catch up as costs in the city have continued to rise.
"They've been paying those bills with borrowed money and also plastic," Nespoli adds. "It's time that somebody recognizes the work that they did during Hurricane Sandy, and the work they continue to do to keep this city safe, clean and attractive to tourists. We're the ones who keep the city going."
Nespoli characterizes Bob Linn – Mayor Bill de Blasio's pick to head the Department of Labor Relations – as a tough negotiator, but ultimately someone who unions can engage in constructive dialogue.
"We're going to have a conversation," Nespoli says. "That's what's most important. He's going to bring up his points, and we have to bring up our points. We'll start from there."
Sounds simple, but according to union watchers, that's a far cry from the way talks between labor and the Bloomberg administration went for much of the media mogul's 12 years in office.
"For the last several years, the unions in New York City have been mistreated," Nespoli says. "They've had nothing on the other side of the table. [Bloomberg] can say all he wants that the unions didn't want a contract. I was the first union in to try to settle a contract. I made myself very clear that I was willing to sit down and negotiate. And what I got back from the other side was, 'This is what we're giving. We're not giving any more. You can take it or leave it.' That's not negotiating."
While New York City is unique, Nespoli says that labor leaders will take an inventory of successful contracts that have already been settled in other parts of the country.
"I'm sure [Bob Linn] is going to have other unions lined up," Nespoli says. "And I'm sure he's going to see which union he can best make a deal. Basically, once one union sits down and makes a deal, then the other unions will go ahead, and the city will go in and wrap up some things. It's been like that for a hundred years. But it has to start with a conversation."