Mayor Bloomberg wears the union label at Saturday’s Labor Day parade.
What a difference incumbency makes.
Four years ago, then-candidate Michael Bloomberg showed up at the city’s post-Labor Day parade and was greeted like a mosquito at a barbecue, a nuisance to be slapped away. But there he was Saturday morning, a Republican mayor striding up Fifth Avenue, wrapped in the warm embrace of New York’s top trade union officials, walking side by side with John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.
Union affection for Bloomberg even bridged the divide in the house of labor: Moments before the parade’s start, the mayor was endorsed for reelection by UNITE – HERE, the apparel and hotel workers union that bolted from the AFL-CIO this summer amid a bitter dispute over organizing with Sweeney. HERE UNITE president Bruce Raynor was joined by his colleague, Peter Ward, head of the Hotel Trades Council which won Bloomberg’s help in saving hundreds of jobs at the Plaza Hotel this spring.
Both Raynor and Ward were staunch backers of Democrat Mark Green in the 2001 election, but power flows to those who hold it, and City Hall has the key to most local labor disputes, in the private sector as well as the public. It also doesn’t hurt that the hotel workers’ master contract will expire next July, and the union will be pushing employers to make up for the no-raise bad days following the World Trade Center attack when city tourism pancaked. Look for Ward to be seeking Bloomberg’s help in those talks.
Ditto for Raglan George, executive director of District Council 1707, whose 25,000-member union also endorsed the mayor for reelection this past week. The 1707 endorsement came after the union, comprised mainly of low-paid, minority daycare center workers, went without a contract for more than four years. Their contract ran out in 2000, a labor stand-off Bloomberg inherited from the Giuliani administration. While the billionaire mayor doled out a 22 percent hike to the school teachers union after taking office, he waited his sweet time with the daycare teachers, ignoring the union’s pleas for more than three years. Talks didn’t begin until the union staged a three-day strike last summer.
“As I told the mayor at the endorsement press conference, we’ve been down some rocky roads together,” said George as he walked past the parade reviewing stand. It is the first time in his 18 years with the union, he said, that the local, known for its progressive, left-leaning politics, has endorsed a Republican. But George also has a contract expiration date coming up next April. Did the mayor promise anything in that direction? “His only promise is that it won’t be like the last time,” said George. “He said he’ll make sure we aren’t left waiting again.”
The parade produced a smattering of placards for Anthony Weiner, a few for Gifford Miller, and a handful for Ferrer. But blue-and-white “Unions for Mike Bloomberg” signs were the predominant expression of mayoral preference among the thousands of marchers, with the only discordant note heard from the United Federation of Teachers contingent which chanted “Contract Now” as they marched (as did the contract-less Council of Supervisors and Administrators).
“I don’t know what they’re really thinking of,” said Jim Conigliaro, leader of District 15 of the International Association of Machinists which has endorsed Weiner. “Bloomberg supports Bush, there’s no getting around it; and Bush is killing organized labor. Bloomberg’s like a guy playing second base for the Red Sox who insists he’s really for the Yankees.”