City Council staffers appear divided over unionization effort

New York’s City Hall. Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / Jule_Berlin

As City Council employees vying for collective bargaining began handing out union cards on Monday, it became apparent that higher-earning workers were not onboard with the plan to standardize wages for fear that they would lose out.

According to one source, City Council members are able to set their staff’s salaries at their discretion, leaving many employees to earn far less than their counterparts who may be at the same level. In this source’s experience, she was hired as a director a month apart from another male director; she made $10,000 less than him in salary.

Now, those hired by council members at a higher salary are less interested in unionization because it may bring a potential cut in pay, the source said.

One of the leading voices in the unionization effort, Zara Nasir, claims that as of Monday morning, about 150 staffers have committed to signing union cards; the organizing committee has around 50 members.

A spokesman from Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office, however, stressed the distinction between what council members choose to pay versus what central staff gets paid, with the latter seeing more standardized pay scales.

Johnson came out on Nov. 14 saying that he supports the effort to organize and that the minimum salary for full-time central staff was set at $52,000 per year. Central staff is also entitled to cost of living adjustments, based on standards set by DC37.

“If the staff here at the City Council wants to take that step, I wholeheartedly support them and I want to make it as easy as possible for them to do that and to engage with them in a way that’s prescribed by law… to make sure we do it properly and correctly,” Johnson said. “Whenever they want to start that conversation with my general counsel and with the team here at the city council, we’re more than willing to start those conversations.”

Johnson’s spokesman did not offer details on where the conversation with organizers and the Speaker’s counsel stands four days after the press conference.

Breakdowns from Glassdoor show wide fluctuations in pay for the same job. For example, a data scientist can make anywhere between $67,000 and $116,000. Salaries for community liaisons, a district office job, can range between $29,000 and $58,000.

A spokeswoman from the Speaker’s office, offered further context on the distinction, which she said had been insufficiently explained in the earlier Queens Eagle and Politico stories regarding the topic.

Council members get a budget cap on how much they’re able to pay in employee overhead. If they want to hire one person for a range of tasks rather than multiple people for different roles, it is at their discretion, the spokeswoman explained. This is based on the assumption that 51 council districts will all have different needs.