By Adam Andrzejewski
Mayor Bill de Blasio is aggressively pushing for a $12.4 billion federal bailout— because New York City faces an unprecedented $7 billion budget deficit over the next two years.
Last week, in a public relations stunt, the mayor announced a one-week unpaid furlough of himself and 494 employees within his office — a taxpayer savings of a paltry $860,000.
So, how did the city get so deep into trouble?
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com dug into the skyrocketing city payroll. In 2016, there were 76,166 employees with pay exceeding $100,000. By 2019, there were more than 114,000 — a 50-percent increase in six-figure earners.
In 2019, plumber helpers earned $172,988; thermostat repairmen made up to $198,630; regular laborers hauled away $213,169; electricians lit up $253,132; and plumbers pocketed up to $286,245.
School janitors ($256,000) out-earned the principals ($154,000). Four deputy mayors made over $241,641 each and 5,998 city employees out-earned New York governor Andrew Cuomo ($178,000).
The city has 331,520 full-time equivalent employees – up from 297,349 in 2014.
However, 592,432 people pulled a paycheck at some point last year at a total cost of $29.5 billion. (This included base salary, overtime, and “other pay,” but not healthcare or pension benefits. Those perks add 30-percent.)
Office of the Mayor - $52 million payroll cost
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s base salary was $258,541 plus free rent at Gracie Mansion and regular police-escorted trips to the gym – even as he closed schools, restaurants, and gyms.
First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan made $278,980 and three deputy mayors earned between $241,641 and $246,124. Even de Blasio’s executive chef Feliberto Estevez cooked up $124,285.
First Lady Chirlane McCray, de Blasio’s wife, works within the Office of the Mayor as a volunteer. However, fourteen city employees aid McCray with salaries that cost taxpayers $2 million per year.
McCray’s aides included senior advisors, communications advisors, and a policy director along with a chief of staff, two deputy chiefs of staff, a press secretary, speechwriter, videographer, and others, according to news reports.
The head count of McCray’s payroll (14) exceeded U.S. First Lady Melania Trump’s staff (11). Michele Obama employed 24 staffers as First Lady.
(The mayor responded for all agencies – review the comment at the end of this column.)
Department of Education — $13 billion payroll cost
Only in New York City can school janitors out-earn the principals. We found 40 “custodial engineers” who earned between $154,000 and $256,000, while 57 principals made less than $154,000.
Last year, over 50,000 educators earned a six-figure salary, including 37,324 teachers and substitutes.
The public schools spent a hefty $28,808 per student – twice the national average ($12,612) – while fourth and eighth grade math and reading tests significantly underperformed state and national averages.
Chancellor Richard Carranza made $357,973 – exceeding the salary of the U.S. education secretary Betsy Devos ($199,900).
Police Department — $5.2 billion payroll cost
The Police Department (NYPD) payroll included 59,970 employees last year, and nearly half, or 26,018, made six-figures or more. Included in the cost was $728 million in paid overtime.
However, only one police officer was in the top five NYPD most highly compensated.
Four “stationary engineers” – employees who operate industrial machines – led the payroll. Thanks to excessive hours and lax rules, these workers made between $84,850 and $101,740 in overtime. Stationary engineer Daniel Boyne was the highest paid person in the department ($261,682).
An additional 1,971 NYPD employees including chief Terrence Monahan ($236,943) out-earned governor Andrew Cuomo’s $178,000 salary.
Fire Department — $1.8 billion payroll cost
The Fire Department (NYFD) payroll included 18,679 employees last year, 8,970 of whom made six-figures or more. Top earners include four assistant chiefs paid between 264,558 and $302,810. Commissioner Daniel Nigro did not make the top ten earners with his $237,517 salary.
The department also created another kind of fire when it fired the whistleblower who discovered an alleged affair between the previous commissioner and a staffer.
Former administrator Lyndelle Phillips sued over an allegation of unlawful termination and settled the lawsuit last year. She collected $500,000 in back pay in 2019 and became the highest paid person on the entire city’s payroll.
An additional 856 NYFD employees out-earned the governor’s $178,000 salary.
Rats Out-Fox New York City Bureaucrats — $32 million ‘War on Rats’ campaign
In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared war on the city’s rat population and demanded “more rat corpses.” The city council minted $32 million for the rat extermination campaign.
Despite a city workforce of 331,000, the rats outsmarted the bureaucrats.
Last year, in a co-investigation with The New York Times NYT 0.5%, we mapped 130,000 rat sightings since 2010 and found that reports to the city’s 311 hotline soared nearly 38-percent.
Human Rights Commission — $10.5 million payroll cost
The chair of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) Carmelyn Malalis made $222,990 last year. By comparison, the top paid staffer at the federal Equal Opportunity Commission made $189,600 and the U.S. Attorney General made $199,700.
The HRC mission is to “combat discrimination and fight to ensure that everyone can live in, work in, or visit New York City free from discrimination and harassment.”
However, in a strange twist, the HRC doesn’t pay their interns. While ethically and legally questionable, the internships are available only to students privileged enough to attend college who can work a minimum of 112 unpaid work hours over a four-month period.
Maybe the HRC should investigate its own agency.
Overtime and “other” pay — $3 billion payroll cost
In 2019, city workers claimed an extra $1.9 billion by working 32 million hours of overtime — an average cost per hour of nearly $60. This allowed some workers to double and triple pay.
Examples include plasterer Daniel Fitzmaurice at Corrections (regular salary $93,223, overtime $189,371); plumber supervisor Robert Procida at Housing Authority (regular salary $101,229, overtime $181,422); and steam fitter Stephen Meys at Citywide Administrative Services (regular salary $100,100, overtime $138,957).
The Housing Authority provided a justification: “NYCHA has been focused on improving productivity and delivering the highest level of service to our residents, and we will use all the tools at our disposal, including overtime.”
The Administration for Children’s Services allowed up to 88-hour workweeks.
Examples include laborer Dootechine Joseph, who made $213,169 by working 4,527 hours and earned $136,764 in overtime plus $74,184 in base salary. Motor vehicle operator Mohamed Uddin worked 4,394 hours and boosted total pay to $143,086. Painter Howard Knox made $216,880 by working 2,252 overtime hours for an extra $140,822.
“Other” pay amounted to another $1.1 billion across the workforce. Union negotiators created all kinds of other pay buckets – includingsick and vacation days, per diems, reimbursements, shift differentials, civil service and career development, etc.
Today, New York City is in serious financial trouble as the coronavirus lockdown, riots, looting, and escalating crime caused its wealthiest residents to flee. State and federal lawmakers have the option to bailout the city or force cuts to what critics say is a bloated payroll.
Not surprisingly, the unions are stalling until after the 2020 elections.
Harry Naspoli, head of the Municipal Labor Committee – a coalition of the city’s 110 unions – said there is no place left to cut.
“Can’t do it. There’s not $1 billion there,” he said.
Naspoli is waiting on the election. “After the election, who knows, there might be a whole new atmosphere in Washington.”
The message is clear: New York City wants Congress to bail them out.
Note: The Mayor’s office responded on behalf of all city agencies to our request for comment:
“The de Blasio Administration has proved for years our ability to be fiscally responsible and prepare for adversity. That includes increasing our reserve levels to record levels, saving billions of dollars even when revenue was strong, and establishing a rainy day fund, something no other Mayor could accomplish. Our track record speaks for itself.”