The Chief

January 14, 2000



Safir's Sucker-Trap Fails

Six months ago, Police Commissioner Howard Safir visited Patrolmen's Benevolent Association headquarters to meet with new union president Pat Lynch and predicted a smoother relationship than he'd had with his two predecessors.

When sweet talk like that is uttered by an agency head, it's usually a good idea for a union leader to check his pocket to make sure his wallet's still there.

In this case, however, the brief honeymoon between commissioner and PBA leader seems to be over not because Mr. Safir tried to pick Mr. Lynch's pocket, but because he tried to stuff a few tempting but not terribly kosher greenbacks into the pockets of his members.

In a variation on a scheme Mr. Safir couldn't slip by prior PBA administrations or the city's Board of Collective Bargaining, the Commissioner wants to promote several hundred cops to Detective Specialist, an upgrade that would come with a $1,600 pay boost.

During the tenures of Lou Matarazzo and Doe Savage at the helm of the PBA, Mr. Safir attempted to give a relatively small percentage of cops a $1,400 bonus known as 'Special Assignment Pay." Those two officials balked at the move, arguing that the increase was too small, it wasn't being offered to a large enough contingent of patrol cops, and that the lack of objective criteria for awarding it could lead to favoritism and was sure to breed resentment.

When Mr. Safir tried to pay the bonus without union consent, the PBA filed an improper practice complaint with the BCB, which ruled that the Commissioner had wrongly tried to evade the certified bargaining agent for Police Officers.

Like his patron, Mayor Giuliani, Mr. Safir's respect for lawful authority tends to diminish when that lawful authority rules against him. And so rather than accept the BCB decision, he has concocted another subterfuge that wrongly intrudes upon the PBA's bargaining rights.

Apparently the Police Commissioner took Mr. Lynch for the same kind of sap that detectives on his favorite TV show, "NYPD Blue," play criminal suspects for when they coax them to "help" themselves by confessing immediately rather than waiting for their lawyers to arrive at the stationhouse.

Mr. Lynch, however, was not green enough to take the bait. He has some of the same reservations about this new plan that his predecessors did about its earlier incarnation. And so he went into Manhattan Supreme Court two weeks ago and obtained a temporary restraining order on the grounds that the new plan is nothing more than an attempt to evade the BCB ruling compelling bargaining on the issue.

In the past, the Mayor and Mr. Safir have expressed incredulity that a union would be trying to prevent its members from receiving more money. Their "shock" is disingenuous, to say the least.

The city's Collective Bargaining Law prohibits deals, even over-the-table ones, that cut an employee group's certified bargaining agent out of the process. There is a simple reason for this: such deals could undermine a union's standing by convincing employees that the road to financial betterment lies in unflinching loyalty to management rather than relying on the organization to which they pay dues.

Mr. Safir's persistence on this front suggests he may have underestimated Mr. Lynch. His gambit will ultimately backfire - from now on, the PBA president should be under no illusions that the Commissioner wants a labor-management relationship that is mutually beneficial.