NYC Council and staff union strike tentative deal in first-ever contract

New York state’s first legislative staff union, which represents some 370 City Council staffers, is on the verge of landing its first contract after nearly two years of bargaining, according to union members and Council leadership.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams signed the contract’s terms on Tuesday, setting the stage for a ratification vote by union members later this month.

If approved, the deal would raise the minimum salary for councilmember aides from $30,000 a year to $55,000 a year. It would also include guaranteed annual increases for most union positions, establish new “just cause” disciplinary standards and provide additional time off for overtime, along with other benefits.

The proposed contract between the Council, the city’s Office of Labor Relations and the Association of Legislative Employees union comes after almost a decade of organizing and is poised to become a national model for a burgeoning number of legislative staff unions across the country.

“Since the start of this bargaining process, we sought to come to a meaningful and thoughtful agreement for a first contract to support these workers within a legislative body,” Adams said in a statement after signing the tentative agreement. “This achievement honors the generations of public service provided by Council staff for decades. I thank ALE and the Office of Labor Relations for their commitment towards reaching this milestone.”

Daniel Kroop, a senior finance analyst and the ALE union’s president, said this tentative agreement is set to “institute a sea change in the power imbalance” within the Council. He also hopes it sends other unions a message.

“We’re about to institute enforceable protections to stop, to clamp down, to restrict, to monitor and hopefully put an end to the unfair termination and abuse,” said Kroop. “So I think of it a little bit as rules of the road, where there once was a wild west.”

Council staff began their organizing efforts more than eight years ago and achieved formal recognition of their union in 2021 under then-Speaker Corey Johnson. While legislative staffers in jurisdictions such as Berkeley, California, Denver, Colorado, and Oregon have unionized through other established organizations, the Council’s ALE union set up its own independent organization that is run and led by member-volunteers .

The ALE union currently represents staff who work as councilmember aides in district offices or at 250 Broadway, performing legislative, communications, land use and budget work. The unit also includes staff in the Council’s finance division.

For the past two years, members of the ALE union’s bargaining committee have worked with the speaker’s office and the Office of Labor Relations to secure the best possible deal for all sides. Addressing wage disparities for councilmember aides was a chief concern.

Since 2016, councilmembers have made an annual base salary of $148,500, while the minimum salary for a full-time councilmember aide starts at $30,000 a year.

The proposed contract would increase that minimum base for councilmember aides by nearly 60%, to $55,000 a year. The proposal also includes compound wage increases of 16.21% for most staff making more than the minimum — which comes out to 3% annual increases dating to August 2021-2024 and another 3.25% in August 2025. There is also a $3,000 ratification bonus for all covered positions.

Union negotiators said they prioritized shifting councilmember aides from being “at-will” employees who could be terminated at any time without cause to employees covered by a set of standards, including a disciplinary process.

The Council has a troubling history of some high-profile cases of abuse involving its members. They include former Councilmember Andy King of the Bronx, whom members voted to expel in 2020 over allegations that he mistreated multiple female staffers, and former Councilmember Barry Grodenchik of Queens, who admitted to sexually harassing a female staffer.

Union leaders said incidents involving abuse and termination are far more common, even if they receive less attention. They cited the dismissal of at least two Council aides last month that occurred without explanation under the current at-will policy.

An analysis from New York state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found the vacancy rate within the City Council staff was the highest of any city agency in 2021, at 18.8%, or six times the citywide average.

The job often entails working late nights, early mornings and weekends, and being on call for a variety of events and emergencies.

“We have that pressure of meeting the demands of the councilmembers,” said Berenice Navarrete Perez, a budget aide in Councilmember Christopher Marte’s office who is also vice president of the ALE union. “Those members run on a platform and they want to deliver for the community, but I think that translates to the pressure that staff often feels.”

Under the new contract, ALE union members except chiefs of staff will work under new “just cause” standards requiring employees to receive notice and a clear explanation for why an employee is being disciplined.

The contract also establishes a disciplinary grievance procedure, including independent arbitration — another first-in-nation achievement for legislative aides, the union said. Those hearings would be conducted through the city’s Office of Collective Bargaining within the Office of Labor Relations.

Other contract benefits include a new comp-time policy that will allow councilmember aides making less than $80,000 a year to accrue up to 13 additional days of paid time off for working overtime, along with a new welfare fund to help cover catastrophic medical expenses and a prescription drug benefit plan starting in 2026.

Jammel Thompson has spent 14 months doing constituent services for an annual salary of $40,000 in Councilmember Darlene Mealy’s office in Brooklyn. He said the wage increase under the proposed contract would benefit him and his 11-month-old daughter.

“When I first started at this job, my main goal was to help,” said Thompson, who helps Mealy’s constituents in Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, East Flatbush and Ocean Hill.

“I’m a Swiss Army knife, honestly,” he added, describing the various ways he helps people navigate the city’s complex bureaucracy. “But the wage doesn’t fit.”

Union members will vote on the contract from April 9 to 12, and more than 50% of them must approve it for it to be ratified. If ratified, the initial wage increases are expected to take effect this month, according to the union.

Kroop, the ALE union president, said the contract is just the beginning of the union’s ongoing organizing work and that more units within the Council staff are anticipated to join. Union leaders hope to take on new fights modeled after concessions won by other city unions, such as expanding access to remote work, he said.

Union leaders also said they’d like to help others trying to organize legislative staff in Illinois, California and Massachusetts.

“We are a win on the board,” said Kroop. “In all these places, we want to say, ‘you can do this.’”

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