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De Blasio wants health savings from labor

New York City Budget Director Dean Fuleihan, center,

New York City Budget Director Dean Fuleihan, center, speaks to Deputy Budget Director P.V. Anatharam, right, while he testifies before City Council members during a hearing at City Hall on Mayor Bill de Blasio's preliminary budget proposal on March 5, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

New York City's 150-plus labor unions, all working under expired contracts, must make concessions on health care to get bigger raises, Mayor Bill de Blasio's budget chief said during a City Council hearing Wednesday on the mayor's preliminary spending plan.

"We're going to treat the workforce with a respect that they've not been treated with, and at the same time protect the taxpayers and do something that's affordable," budget director Dean Fuleihan said.

"There has to be offsetting savings, and he's [de Blasio has] specifically mentioned and has repeatedly mentioned health savings."

Labor negotiations are the city's biggest fiscal hurdle this year, with about 300,000 municipal workers -- some who've gone without contract since 2007 -- clamoring for raises, benefits and about $7 billion in retroactive pay requests. The nonpartisan Independent Budget Office, analyzing several scenarios, estimated raises of 2 percent going forward on top of retroactive raises of 4 percent could cost the city $7.1 billion in 2014.

Many city employees pay little to nothing for health care. Fuleihan Wednesday did not estimate the potential cost or savings of health care concessions.

An IBO report projected the city could save $535 million in fiscal year 2015 by requiring employees and retirees not yet on Medicare to pitch in 10 percent of the cost now shouldered by taxpayers.

Unions in the midst of contract talks have been reluctant to comment on bargaining. A spokesman for the 200,000-member United Federation of Teachers Wednesday said the union does not negotiate in the press. The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents rank-and-file police officers, did not respond to a request for comment.

Comptroller Scott Stringer Wednesday told reporters the city must establish "at least the parameters" for labor negotiations before the June 30 end of the fiscal year to accurately project the city's expenses.

"Health care costs are growing 8 percent, and we certainly do have to have that discussion," he said.

Asked whether she believes city employees should contribute to their health care costs, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told reporters she was not yet familiar with what workers pay or do not pay and thus, hasn't taken a stance.

De Blasio unveiled his budget proposal last month but left unclear how much he was setting aside for labor deals. His blueprint would replenish the retiree health benefits trust fund with $1 billion and increase the general reserve fund from $300 million to $600 million, possibly freeing money for union negotiations.

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