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Merit pay mars NYC city workers deal

By Michael Ware | April 27, 2001 | Page 15

NEW YORK--After working for nearly a year without a contract, 125,000 unionized city workers are voting on an offer from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The offer contains a no-layoff clause and a solid wage increase that workers badly need. But this is bait--to get workers to accept the poisonous pill of merit pay.

Under the proposal, city workers --who are represented by AFSCME District Council (DC) 37, an umbrella organization of 56 municipal locals--would get a 9 percent pay increase over 27 months. The deal is retroactive to April 2000, so workers would get an 8 percent hike immediately. But supervisors would be allowed to reward "good" employees with an additional 1 to 3 percent increase.

Guiliani is willing to pay a little more for a contract that expires in 14 months if he can establish merit pay for municipal workers--especially for public school teachers, who are in separate negotiations with the city. Once merit pay is in place, raises would be handed out to supervisor's pets, union militants would be punished, and the city would gain new leverage.

Yet only two local presidents in DC 37--Charles Ensley of Local 371 and Helen Greene of Local 768--have come out against the offer. "You can hear the bell ringing the death knell of solidarity, of our movement," said a Local 371 member and representative to the DC 37 house of delegates. "My principles are worth more than 9 percent."

DC 37 officials are under pressure to deliver. Former DC 37 head Stanley Hill was thrown out of office after union reformers blew the whistle on corruption--and a rigged vote on the last contract with the city, which included a two-year wage freeze.

DC 37's new leadership is defending the current proposal, claiming that merit pay provisions have always been part of the contract. But the proposed agreement strips the union of any say in the process. The city doesn't even have to tell the union who's getting a raise. No wonder Giuliani called DC 37's acceptance of merit pay "a historic breakthrough" that "gives the city protection in other negotiations."

Teachers can expect more of the same. UFT President Randi Weingarten is rightfully arguing that teachers need at least a 20 percent raise. But she seems willing to entertain merit pay, trade away holidays and lengthen the school day to get it.

Rank and filers have to organize the strong sentiment against merit pay to put pressure on the DC 37 leadership. DC 37 workers should vote "no" on this contract. No merit pay--not now, not ever!

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