N.Y. Judge Says Bloomberg Lacked Power on Prevailing Wage

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg exceeded his authority when he usurped a long-standing practice of the city comptroller to set so-called prevailing wages for workers without collective bargaining agreements, a judge said.

State Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez said in a ruling today that the Bloomberg administration’s reclassification of city job titles to levels that offer less pay and time off didn’t “have a rational basis,” is “arbitrary and capricious,” and occurred without notice or a hearing by the state Civil Service Commission.

Previous contracts through agreements between unions and the city comptroller, based on prevailing wages in business and government, were valid, he said.

The judge annulled the Bloomberg administration changes and reinstated the contracts that existed before the city’s April 11 personnel order that led to the new job titles and salary and benefit levels.

“We’re very pleased the judge agreed that the city overreached by stripping workers of prevailing wage protections,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of the city Central Labor Council, which supported the lawsuit. “It was an inappropriate action from the get-go, and would have hurt thousands of workers and their families.”

Michael A. Cardozo, an attorney with the city's Law Department, said the administration disagrees with the decision and plans to appeal.

“The administrative change the city made seeks to undo an expensive anomaly in New York City government, and was implemented by other major jurisdictions in the state years ago,” Cardozo said in a statement. “These workers should bargain for their wages and benefits like other city employees.”

Skilled Tradesmen

The judge’s ruling affects about 10,000, or about 3 percent, of the city’s employees, most of them skilled tradesmen such as carpenters, blacksmiths and plumbers.

The mayor had criticized as a “back-door political thing” the old practice of setting the workers’ pay and time off through negotiations with the comptroller.

Michael Loughran, spokesman for city Comptroller John Liu, said, “This office has set prevailing wages for more than a century and the mayor’s current labor strategy has resulted in 200,000 men and women working without a contract.”

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

The case is Murphy v. City of New York, 102636/2012, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).

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