Healthcare

Mike Bloomberg’s Dance With Dennis Rivera

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The most important M.I.A., standing on the 2005 sidelines after fielding an
army for Freddy Ferrer in 2001, is health care union president Dennis Rivera.
Mike Bloomberg has taken him and his Democratic powerhouse of a black and
Latino union out of the action.

Bloomberg labor commissioner Jim Hanley is now quietly negotiating a new
contract for the 4,000 Health & Hospitals Corporation workers that Rivera’s Local 1199
represents. Jennifer Cunningham, Rivera’s top aide, told the Voice flat-out
that these negotiations “are a factor” in the union’s decisionmaking about
possible mayoral endorsements, though she added they are not “dispositive.” The
importance of this contract to the union doubled in December or January, when
Cunningham says another local in the omnibus union that 1199 is part of, SIEU,
“merged with us,” adding 2,000 HHC licensed practical nurses to Rivera’s rolls.
Rivera has* long represented lab technicians and pharmacists at the city’s
hospitals corporation.

Cunningham said the union “could’ve signed a me-too contract” with the city,
getting the same raises already granted District Council 37, which represents
the bulk of HHC staff, but Rivera is holding out for more. The largest union
of municipal workers, DC 37 has already endorsed the mayor. Ferrer spokeswoman
Jen Bluestein, who declined to discuss her own candidate’s efforts to woo
Rivera, said that ongoing negotiations with any union “certainly put pressure on
labor leaders,” who are “forced to negotiate with someone while simultaneously
making an endorsement decision about what’s best for their membership.” She
said it makes union leaders “be really steadfast and honest in assessing” their
members’ interest.

The union was “very pleased,” said Cunningham, by Bloomberg’s earlier support
of a “groundbreaking living wage” for the 50,000 home attendants Local 1199
represents, a bill Council Speaker Gifford Miller actually passed but that the
mayor signed. Bloomberg has also been “receptive to hearing” about other 1199
issues, pushing city contractors who employ thousands of home health aides, a
different category of union members, to boost bargain basement salaries.
Cunningham said “the mayor’s office is now being helpful” in getting city lawyers to
figure out ways “to navigate” these complex contracts, and that some of these
workers, for the first time, have secured health benefits from the contractors.

Cunningham would not discuss a private dinner that Rivera and Bloomberg had
in 2004 that she attended, as did the mayor’s Cunningham, Bill. But as the two
drank wine most of the night, the exchange got increasingly tough, with Rivera
and Bloomberg reportedly talking past each other. Rivera was offering “a
mystical view of the world,” said one informed source, and Bloomberg wanted to
stick to “concrete issues,” leading to a clumsy combine of “two different
conversations.” Senate Republican Leader Joe Bruno, who is extremely close to Rivera
and both brokered and attended the dinner, “pushed Dennis to back Bloomberg,” and
Rivera didn’t like the pressure. It ended so badly that word of it quickly
filtered back to the Ferrer campaign, and hope once again sprang eternal.

But the mayor and the leader were soon back on track, this time minus the
wine.

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