The Productive Mayor: Make Your Own Raises
We don't endorse candidates, but there's a good reason for non-residents to wish another term for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He may show cities everywhere how to do the seemingly impossible: Raise city worker salaries, improve services and, in time, lower taxes.
Bloomberg's secret: productivity. In his negotiations with city workers during his first term, the mayor has made a simple, consistent demand: You can have the raises you create by doing your work faster, better and with less labor. "The mayor has always been very strong in saying that (city) workers should be paid more," one of Bloomberg's aides told the New York Times. "We just need to find ways to pay them more. Given the fiscal realities, the only way to do that is focus on productivity."
Example: Bloomberg recently agreed to a 17 percent raise for sanitation workers over the coming four years and three months, the handsomest raise New York has agreed to in years. But the union had to agree to use one-person trucks for some pickups and stretch out other routes so that crews hauled more garbage. "The trick of this contract," the head of the sanitation workers union told the Times, "was you had to generate your own wage increases."
Bloomberg has offered the same proposition to teachers, police officers and office workers: You can have the savings you create. (It is hoped that, in time, the taxpayers may enjoy some of these savings as well.) "Every deal that we have cut so far has had a productivity component with internal savings," another Bloomberg aide explained. "The message is clear from the mayor: If you're willing to come to the table and be flexible and creative and come up with some savings, you can get a terrific deal."
It helps, of course, that Bloomberg knows how to manage large, complex organizations. Before being elected mayor in 2001, he founded and managed a Fortune 500 corporation. As a result, this mayor came to office understanding the power of productivity: It allows companies to offer goods and services at lower prices, while paying higher salaries to employees and generating greater profits for shareholders.
But few other mayors grasp the power of productivity or are as determined in demanding it in labor negotiations. Many city officials start out requesting work changes but cave if the unions are willing to settle for lower raises. Not Bloomberg. He wants to give higher raises, but only if the unions help create them through labor savings.
Footnote: There are plenty of critics who think that, despite his emphasis on productivity, Bloomberg is settling for too little from the unions. And it's true that the contracts he has approved haven't always been paid entirely with savings. But the head of one city budget watchdog group remembers suggesting years ago that city raises should be financed with productivity savings. "People used to look at us like we're crazy for saying that," he told the Times. "Now it's accepted that that's how it's going to be." Posted 11/1/2005
Postcript: Mayor Bloomberg was re-elected, of course. Then he was re-elected yet again, in 2009, for a third term. And despite grumbling about his aloof ways, he proved to be a great and maybe historic mayor.
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