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Highway Repair Supervisors Get $100G Back Pay

Published: June 29, 2007

Publication: The Chief

By Meredith Kolodner

Supervisor Highway Repairers will likely receive a 46-percent hike in their hourly wage and collect between $100,000 and $150,000 each in back-pay after their union went to court to force the city to pay the prevailing wage.

Officials at Local 1157 of District Council 37 five years ago challenged wage settlements dating back to March 2000. The city balked at an initial finding that bumped the workers from $24.43 to $35.73 an hour, but a State Supreme Court decision June 15 affirmed the rates, which would pay the 150 Department of Transportation workers wages comparable to highway construction employees in the private sector.

‘What They Deserve’

“The ruling brings these guys up to where they should be by law,” said Arthur Schwartz, a lawyer who handled the prevailing-wage case along with John Bright.

The decision follows a settlement earlier this month that increased Construction Laborers’ and Highway Repairers’ pay by almost 50 percent. Under state labor law, certain public-sector blue-collar workers are entitled to the same wages paid in the private sector. Those locals can petition the City Comptroller’s Office to perform a survey to compare wage rates in the private sector, if they are not satisfied with the contract negotiated for the larger DC 37 membership.

District Council 37 is now setting up a meeting with the Bloomberg administration to negotiate an agreement, based on the court’s decision.

DC 37 ‘Very Happy’

“We worked collaboratively with Local 1157 throughout the process, and we are very happy about the ruling,” said DC 37’s lead negotiator Dennis Sullivan. “We are looking forward to getting to the bargaining table with the city.”

Local 1157 President Mickey McFarland didn’t return calls seeking comment.

The current ruling doesn’t cover the period after June 30, 2005. The Supervisors could eventually see greater raises and additional back-pay once they are brought up to date.

Local 1157 members have been without a raise since 2000, as their prevailing wage proceeding made its way through several layers of bureaucracy. The petition was filed in November 2002, and the Comptroller’s Office issued its determination in March 2005. But the Bloomberg administration would not agree to the findings and took the matter to the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.

The Comptroller’s Office had concurred with Local 1157 that the Supervisors’ rates should be equivalent to members of the Sheet Asphalt Workers Union Local 1018 and Road and Street Construction Laborers Union Local 1010 of the Laborers International Union, who were making $30.03 and $29.74 respectively, plus $14.50 worth of benefits on April 1, 2000.

OLR’s Arguments

At the OATH hearing, city Office of Labor Relations officials contended that the prevailing wage rates should be reduced because Supervisors “function almost exclusively in a supervisory capacity.” They also argued that there were technical problems with the Comptroller’s assessment.

Administrative Law Judge Kevin F. Casey ruled in the union’s favor in January 2006. The city appealed the decision to the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, which eventually affirmed the OATH ruling.

The ruling will likely cost the city between $15 and $20 million. Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley did not return calls requesting comment.

One Local 376 official, whose members got the almost-50-percent raise earlier this month, expressed concern that publicity over the awards would backfire, resulting in tougher negotiations with the city.

Internal Tensions

The process also brought to the surface tensions between DC 37 officials and Mr. Schwartz, a favorite lawyer among reform locals who was hired by Locals 376 and 1157 to handle their prevailing-wage petitions.

“DC 37 should have been pursuing better rates since the 1990s,” said Mr. Schwartz. “Instead, they discourage their members from going after these awards.”

Mr. Sullivan denied that claim and noted that the decision to request a survey by the Comptroller’s Office is up to the members of each local who are covered by the prevailing-wage law.

“DC 37 always presented to all of our locals the ability for them to exercise their prevailing-wage rights,” said Mr. Sullivan. “DC 37 does not dictate to the locals. We don’t substitute our judgment for the judgment of the membership.”

Potential Pitfalls

Mr. Sullivan said some of the potential drawbacks of using the prevailing-wage process are the length of time it takes to get an award, the expense involved, a possible city challenge to the workers’ prevailing-rate status and the fact that they might not get a favorable ruling. DC 37 members have never experienced the latter two problems, but Mr. Sullivan said other groups of workers have, such as Elevator Mechanics.

He also noted that during the 1990s, the union successfully pursued prevailing-wage rates for radio mechanics and locksmiths in Local 1087 and that DC 37 requested a Comptroller’s survey for other workers in 2005, including Sewage Treatment Workers.

“It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and say woulda, coulda, shoulda,” Mr. Sullivan said. “But Arthur Schwartz wasn’t around then, so he doesn’t really know how or why decisions were made.”

But Mr. Schwartz argued that there was a thin line between information and advice. “I sat in meetings where [Mr. Sullivan] would paint the risks as so great,” he said, “that negotiating teams would get the message that he was the expert and he was telling them it was a real risky thing. These cases prove he was wrong.”

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