Dear Executive Director Henry Garrido,
As progressive public sector workers and rank and file members of District Council 37, we’re encouraged to see union leaders mobilizing members to pressure state lawmakers to pass legislation averting 22,000 layoffs of city workers. We support this effort and encourage members of the DC 37 Progressive Caucus to participate in the union’s letter writing campaign.
However, we do not support the union’s prioritization of legislation to enable borrowing authority and early retirement incentives ahead of revenue building legislation to raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, who are profiting from the pandemic as low wage workers and the unemployed are in need of public services more than ever. To our knowledge, rank and file members were not consulted on the decision to support these measures. We ask that rank and file input be considered on all union advocacy efforts going forward. And to that point, we believe DC 37 should join the wider labor movement and progressive politicians in pushing for higher taxes on the rich first-and-foremost, and not lastly as if it’s an afterthought. We further call on the union to endorse defunding the NYPD, and national efforts within AFSCME to form a cop-free union.
As progressives, we look beyond the horizon of political feasibility, yet this is not an ideological critique. There is growing momentum to pass higher taxes on wealthy New Yorkers and the push to defund the NYPD endures despite relentless police brutality. Likely voters across New York State said they support raising taxes on the wealthy to fill a looming budget shortfall over cuts to essential services, according to a survey conducted by Data for Progress in September. Even our neighbors have made similar efforts to solve their own fiscal crises. New Jersey passed a millionaire’s tax, raising state taxes on income over $1 million by nearly 2 percentage points. Suffolk County is cutting $20 million from it’s police department, including the cancellation of two recruitment classes of 200 officers. NYC should go much further, and as the largest public sector union in the city, DC 37 should be at the forefront of this fight.
With this said, our top priority should be preventing layoffs at all costs. Borrowing and early retirement incentives are preferable to layoffs or furloughs. Yet these solutions, while supported by DC 37, would still harm our fellow workers, the services we provide to the city, and ultimately the quality of life in New York City. Early retirement incentives enable the city government to save money by eliminating the salaries and benefits it pays to some of the most experienced public sector workers. Without replacing these senior workers, decades of experience would evaporate leaving behind a void of knowledge in city government. Their labor would then fall on the backs of less experienced workers who are often underpaid and overworked as it is. And once their vacated positions are eventually filled, if ever, it will be with either private contractors or lower paid and less experienced workers. This would diminish the quality of services New Yorkers receive from their city — that means longer wait times in public hospitals, fewer english literacy programs at public libraries, more trash piles in our public parks or on the street, and other manifestations that harm the quality of life in New York City.
Borrowing, on the other hand, is not really a solution at all. It simply kicks the problem further down the road while keeping our job security in jeopardy and inflicting unnecessary mental stress on workers who must cope with the fear of losing their income and the ability to feed their families. However, borrowing authority may be the only option we have to prevent layoffs in the short run. So if borrowing authority is granted, we agree with Assemblymember Ron Kim’s assertion that the city should borrow from the Federal Reserve’s Municipal Liquidity Facility rather than borrowing from private investors, which would make the ultra-wealthy even wealthier and hand them even more leverage over our city than they already have.
Mechanisms to increase taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, like those proposed in the Make Billionaires Pay legislative package, could raise over $35 billion per year, enabling the city and state to prevent layoffs while preserving or increasing the quality of life in NYC. These include a tax on the wealth of ultra-millionaires (S.7378); a tax on second home/“pied-á-terre” properties (S.44); a tax on corporate landlords (S. 7231); and a sales tax on stock trades (S.6203). These taxes make sense for ordinary New Yorkers, and they make sense politically. After all, given the choice between cutting essential public services and asking the wealthy to pay a bit more, wouldn’t we all pick the former? For it won’t be higher taxes that drive taxpayers out of the city, it will be the diminished quality of life created by austerity cuts to public services. Yet this financial crisis allows us to re-envision our society in a way that prioritizes the needs of the least among us, rather than placating and protecting the profits of those who add to their wealth during a pandemic, and who threaten to leave the city high and dry when asked to pay their fair share.
Furthermore, the city has added thousands of uniformed police officers to its payroll in the last decade. This occupational force has historically shown more interest in protecting property owners and capital than protecting first amendment rights, the rights of workers, or the safety of Black and brown communities. The city should defund the police budget by at least $1 billion in actual cuts, place a hiring freeze on new cadet classes, and clear out the department of anyone with a pattern or practice of misconduct, which have recently come to light. We further support the abolition of the NYPD and a reallocation of public safety responsibilities that actually help, and not harm, Black and brown people.
We ask that the mayor, the governor, city council, state legislators, and our union leaders consider these solutions to make certain that those who have profited from the pandemic, and those who are harmful to Black and brown communities, are made responsible for paying to keep the city running. Otherwise, the weight of the pandemic and the financial crisis it has caused will fall directly on the backs of unionized labor.
District Council 37 Progressive Caucus