IMG_20130801_084801Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is casting his lack of support from municipal unions — including the teachers union — as a good thing for the city, saying it’ll make him a tougher negotiator if he sits down with labor leaders to hammer out new contracts as mayor.

“I am unburdened by the support of the municipal labor unions,” de Blasio said this morning at an event at the CUNY Institute for Education Policy.

The comments are significant coming from de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, who positioned himself as a labor-friendly candidate early on in the Democratic primary. He was among the candidates who jockeyed for the United Federation of Teachers endorsement, but was passed over for former comptroller Bill Thompson.

“I know Mr. Mulgrew very well,” de Blasio said, referring to UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “He’s someone that I work well with, but he obviously went with another choice.”

Negotiating the teachers union contract is one of the biggest education issues in the mayoral election. The UFT has made it clear that one of its sticking points is securing up to $3 billion in retroactive pay for the years since the teachers’ contract expired. Back pay for more than 100 labor organizations without contracts adds up to roughly $7 billion, according to city budget estimates.

De Blasio, who was endorsed by SEIU 1199, which represents health care workers, compared himself to the current mayor to characterize his bargaining power in dealing with the city’s special interests.

“Lots of people like to say … Mayor Bloomberg had the great advantage of independence. He didn’t need anyone’s money. He didn’t need anyone’s endorsement,” de Blasio continued. “I have my own independence.”

In a statement, Mulgrew scoffed at de Blasio’s remarks. ”Apparently the endorsement of 1199 does not constitute a burden for Mr. De Blasio, and I am surprised he would have found our endorsement such a potential threat to his independence,” Mulgrew said, “particularly since he was on my calendar so many times earlier this year, many of our staff members thought he had an office in our building.”

After months of trailing behind other Democratic contenders, a recent poll showed that de Blasio pulled even with Thompson for second place behind front-runner City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“What I say to Michael Mulgrew and any other labor leader is, put on the table anything you want, I’ll put on the table our reality and I’ll tell you some of the things I need,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio called said the fact that all of the city’s labor unions were without contract “unconscionable” and indicated that he’d be willing to offer city workers some back pay from the years without a contract.

“I think it is going to be exceedingly challenging, but I think the fundamental notion that we have to get to a contract in year one is accurate. I think some recognition from the years where there was no increase, some way of addressing that, has to be found.”

Read more about De Blasio’s positions on education here.

Here’s video, courtesy of Ben Max, of DecideNYC.com: