Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday announced that he was furloughing his own staff at City Hall, himself included.
The policy will cover 495 mayoral staff members, who will have to take an unpaid, weeklong furlough at some point between October and March 2021. The furloughs will apply to everyone from administrative assistants to Mr. de Blasio and the office of his wife, Chirlane McCray.
The mayor intends to work during his furlough without pay, his spokesman said.
Facing a $9 billion, two-year revenue shortfall because of the coronavirus’s impact on the economy, Mr. de Blasio this year closed the city’s budget with $1 billion in unspecified labor savings.
He warned that he would have to lay off 22,000 employees, a number that could be reduced depending on three factors: negotiated union givebacks, state approval for New York City to finance its operations with up to $5 billion in long-term debt and more federal assistance.
So far, his efforts to convince Albany to act have fallen on deaf ears. So, too, have his pleas for aid from the federal government.
And so at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Emma Wolfe, a deputy mayor for administration and the mayor’s chief of staff, sent out an email detailing the furloughs.
“We know this is hard to hear,” she wrote. “It is hard for us to deliver the news.”
The furloughs would yield $860,000 in anticipated savings, but the move has symbolic implications and could be a precursor to similar maneuvers to slash the budget.
Furloughing roughly 95,000 civilian full-time employees — less than a third of the city’s work force — for one week would save the city about $100 million, according to Ana Champeny, the director of city studies at the Citizens Budget Commission. The estimate excludes employees, like uniformed workers and teachers, whose absence might drive up overtime costs and offset some of the savings.
In public remarks on Wednesday, the mayor said the furloughs were “the right thing to do at this moment in history,” and an unfortunate but inevitable result of the state and federal government’s unwillingness to act.
“I thought it was an article of faith that there would be a federal stimulus,” Mr. de Blasio said. “There hasn’t been. And I see no indication there will be for the remainder of this year. I truly believed that our colleagues in Albany would have acted by now on long-term borrowing.”
In addition to the nearly 24,000 New York City residents the coronavirus has killed, the pandemic has delivered a profound blow to the city’s economy, and the tax revenue on which its budget relies. By July, the city had lost at least 1 million jobs. New York’s Independent Budget Office anticipates that with subsequent job gains tied to New York’s gradual reopening, the city will still have lost 564,200 jobs by year’s end.
The furloughs, which apply to non-unionized mayoral staff, seemed designed to convey Mr. de Blasio’s earnestness about belt-tightening to both his government and labor partners. But furloughs for unionized workers would require negotiations, and union leaders seemed dubious that such a move would solve the city’s problems.
In an interview, Harry Nespoli, who leads the Municipal Labor Committee, a coalition of about 110 city unions, said he was unsure there was $1 billion in labor savings to be found by any means.
“Can’t do it,” he said. “There’s not $1 billion there.”
He said he wanted the mayor to hold off on layoffs until later this year.
“After the election, who knows, there might be a whole new different atmosphere in Washington,” he said.
Henry Garrido, who runs the city’s largest municipal employee union, District Council 37, said many of his members could not afford a five-day furlough.
“My members live paycheck to paycheck,” said Mr. Garrido, who wants Albany to instead authorize an early retirement package as a cost-saving measure.
Budget hawks also greeted Mr. de Blasio’s latest endeavor with some skepticism.
Andrew Rein, the president of the Citizens Budget Commission, argued that six months into this crisis, the mayor should have already produced an efficiency plan and work force reduction plan based on attrition, and that labor and management should have already come together to find significant savings.
“It would be great if this helps dislodge that inertia,” Mr. Rein said. “It’s hard to say if it will.”
Scott Stringer, the city comptroller who is running for mayor on a platform of “bringing leadership back to City Hall,” called Mr. de Blasio’s furloughs “a lazy substitute for real work.”
“Every mayor before this one regularly tasked city agencies with reviewing their budgets for recurring savings without endangering essential services and public workers,” Mr. Stringer said. “We must reinstate that practice.”
Originally, Mr. de Blasio warned that layoffs would start in October, but he backed away from that timeline last month. He has yet to institute a new deadline by which the unions will have to deliver savings and avert layoffs.
Even if the city achieves $1 billion in labor savings, its budgetary problems are far from over.
The budget faces the possibility of $2.3 billion in state education cuts — and an attendant loss of possibly 9,000 education jobs — on top of the likelihood that it will bear much of the brunt of the state’s monumental budget shortfalls. It also includes what experts describe as possibly illusory New York Police Department savings.
Adding fuel to the economic fire, the subway system that underpins the city’s economy is facing a fiscal catastrophe of its own.
Under Mr. de Blasio, the size of the city’s government and its budget have grown dramatically, as have the services the city provides. He often notes that some of that growth is tied to his universal pre-K program, which is widely considered his biggest mayoral accomplishment.
“We do not want to take away jobs from public employees,” Mr. de Blasio said on Wednesday. “We do not want to take away services from communities that need it.”