What happens now with the New York City Council union

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
John McCarten/New York City Council
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

What happens now with the New York City Council union

Organizers hit a milestone on Monday, but they still have a long road ahead.
January 28, 2020

New York City Council staffers took another step towards unionizing on Monday when they announced over 50% of staff – 236 of the 391 Council member aides – signed cards expressing support. Organizers formally requested Council Speaker Corey Johnson to voluntarily recognize the union, which he is expected to do. But that still leaves a lot of questions about what comes next. Here’s what to know before the contract negotiations get going.

So is the City Council unionized now?

The staff has completed its initial card campaign, but that doesn’t mean it has a union yet. Organizers have gone to Johnson with all the cards they collected expressing support for a union and asked that he voluntarily recognize it. Provided he agrees, the certification process with the city Office of Collective Bargaining will begin. The Council will file the new union with the Office of Collective Bargaining, which will in turn post a public notice about it on its website and in the City Record. It will remain posted on the website long enough for any potential opposition to come forward and make its case. Once that period of time is up, the union will be officially certified. Organizers expect this whole process could take several more weeks.

Once the unionization process is done, will Council staffers have a new contract?

The unionization effort is still in its early stages, so organizers don’t know exactly how long contract negotiations will take. They still need to set up a leadership and dues structure, and engage in another card campaign to recruit due-paying members. The earlier card campaign was simply to express support – the 2018 Janus decision means that public sector employees who benefit from collective bargaining cannot be assessed union dues without their agreement. Zara Nasir, one of the lead organizers, said that union leaders would then engage in surveying Council staff to find out what specifically union members want in a contract. Nasir expects it to be many months before there is any sort of contract agreement.

What are staffers asking for?

The demands right now are fairly broad. Because the salaries of Council members’ staff is largely at the discretion of individual members, they’re asking for mandatory base pay. An analysis by Politico New York found that many of these staffers only effectively make minimum wage. Nasir said that there are discussions about flex-time or comp-time for the long hours that staff often work. Nasir said that no one is demanding that staff be retained during the natural turnover of term-limited lawmakers, but that there is a call for some job security provisions, particularly if a lawmaker unexpectedly resigns. And she said that many staffers want greater workplace protections against harassment and abuse.

What will this mean for the City Council?

It’s hard to say right now what unionization will ultimately mean for the City Council. It will likely in part be a budget question, but Nasir said that the impact will likely be rather small in the context of the city budget. She suggested that unionization and base pay will force Council members to spend their allotted money more wisely, hiring perhaps fewer, but higher quality, staff members. This in turn would make the Council jobs more competitive, attract the best talent and make the Council overall more professional. Nasir added that while it’s uncommon for legislative staff to unionize due to the high turnover inherent to the job, public sector employees forming a union is not groundbreaking. Plenty of other city workers, like those in the Departments of Transportation and Housing Preservation and Development, are members of public unions. Nasir said she considers the current unionization efforts just puts legislative staff on the same playing field as so many public workers in the city.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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