The Chief

December 15, 2000

 

Editorial

PBA States Its Case

The gulf separating city negotiators and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association shows no signs of being bridged seven months after formal contract talks began, prompting the union to go public last week with its frustration over the lack of progress.

. In an interview with this newspaper, PBA President Pat Lynch said he was closer to filing for arbitration because city negotiators have balked at meaningful bargaining.

There are strategic reasons for the Giuliani administration's desire not to move quickly, just as laying out the union's case in an unusually public way is a tactical move by the PBA.

While city officials - as well as several union leaders - have been predicting for a while that the PBA's hiring of Bob Linn, Mayor Koch's former chief negotiator, was the first step toward a move into arbitration, the union can make a convincing case in a battle for public support as well.

Instead of focusing their arguments on the widening gap between salaries here and those in prosperous suburbs like Nassau and Suffolk counties, Mr. Lynch and his advisers have emphasized the extent to which NYPD salaries trail those for cops in Newark.

Starting pay for Newark cops is $34,617, nearly 11 percent more than the $31,305 paid to NYPD rookies. After five years on the job, a Newark officer's base pay is $58,032, better than 18 percent above the $49,023 earned by a city cop with the same experience.

Mr. Lynch called that gap "disgraceful." More objective observers would at the least find it a compelling argument for a substantial raise for PBA members, even though pensions for NYPD cops are superior to those available in Newark.

A better pension loses much of its appeal as a tool for recruitment and retention if too many officers are leaving the NYPD early for more generous salaries elsewhere. The claim by NYPD officials that their recent problem attracting police candidates is largely the result of a booming private-sector economy has validity, but the city needs a better long-term recruitment strategy than rooting for a recession.

City officials contend that the PBA's demands are still unrealistically high, claiming that the union's wage package alone would amount to nearly 40 percent over two years, with the biggest part of the increase payable at the very beginning of the contract.

But for those who can remember past PBA presidents opening bargaining with a demand for a 50-percent annual wage increase plus fringe benefits worth nearly as much, the union's current bargaining position is not extreme. We doubt Mr. Lynch or his advisers expect an eventual settlement to approach their wage demand, although they clearly believe a new contract should offer better terms than the 4-percent annual average raise won a year ago by transit workers.

We suspect that Labor Relations Commissioner Jim Hanley's claim that the union still has too fat a package on the table for serious negotiations to occur reflects his reluctance - and more pertinently, that of the Mayor -to make the first con tract deal of this bargaining round with the PBA. There are other unions whose wage goals figure to be more modest and who believe their chances of' winning an arbitration case are not as good as the PBA's, and it makes more sense for Mr. Hanley to explore a deal with one of them.

Twice in the past decade - on one occasion during the Dinkins administration - Mr. Hanley has thwarted the PBA in arbitration by striking a deal with a fire union that conformed to an earlier pattern set with a group representing civilian employees. The arbitrators on both occasions found the historic links between police and fire compensation - as well as the somewhat less binding relationship between police and civilian union raises during the past - too strong to disregard by granting the PBA bigger increases.

And if the PBA's going public with its discontent represents the first real move of this bargaining chess match, the more serious maneuvering will be taking place in the near future. Mr. Lynch indicated he is moving toward a decision on whether to file for arbitration; if he does, he said, he hopes other union leaders will realize the PBA's case is strong enough to set the most favorable pattern for everyone, provided none of them lose patience and make a cheaper deal first.

Saying that is one thing, expecting other labor leaders to keep the faith quite another. There has already been some grumbling among other uniformed union leaders about the possibility that Mr. Linn, who as a mayoral negotiator 12 years ago made a deal with the PBA that took care of its members but boxed other unions into less favorable terms, will do the same thing now that he is working directly for the union.

Another element comes into play as well: pressure from the rank and file in some unions to deliver pay raises now, since they have been working for months under expired contracts. Civil Service Technical Guild President Uma Kutwal, after barely qualifying for a runoff election last week, said he believed one factor that worked against him was members' anxiety about their unresolved contract.

City officials need just one labor leader with similar political concerns and the authority to agree to terms to create a wage pattern that might once again rope in the PBA.

The battle has been joined in earnest. The jockeying for an advantage will only intensify from here.