The Chief

December 22, 2000

 

PBA Plays PERB Card, Says OLR Refuses to Deal

Jurisdictional Battle Looms After City Turns to OCB

by WILLIAM VAN AUKEN

   
Patrick J. Lynch: City offer 'less than zero.'  

Citing the refusal of the city to offer any salary increase after seven months of negotiations, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association filed a petition for a declaration of impasse with the Employment Relations Board Dec. 15, starting a process of mediation that the largest police union hopes will lead to a pattern- breaking contract for its 27,000 members.

Meanwhile, the presidents of the 11 other uniformed forces unions met with city negotiators for two-and-a-half hours in what their coalition's spokesman, Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook, described as a "good dialogue."

'We're Kind of Close'

"It went very well," said the COBA president. "I'm hopeful that we'll just go forward." Asked if he thought a settlement could be reached before the end of the year, Mr. Seabrook replied, "I'm not sure, but we're kind of close now."

The PBA talks broke down after a Dec. 7 bargaining session in which the union presented pared-down demands including an economic proposal that reportedly called for a 39-percent raise over two years. The city presented no new counter-offer, sticking with a proposal that union negotiators characterized as an 8-percent cut in relation to the last contract's total value.

"They continued to stay at minus-8 percent and refused to move, notwithstanding

the fact that we eliminate 60 percent of our demands and gave them a new economic proposal," said the union's chief negotiator, Robert W. Linn, who served as Labor Relations Director for six years in the Koch administration. "Obviously we're at a deadlock."

Mayor Giuliani countered that the city had offered the police union a raise and had included a 2½-percent hike in its budget. "It's false and disingenuous to say that anyone in the city is being asked to take a cut," the Mayor said at a Dec. 18 news conference.

While filing for impasse, the PBA struck simultaneously against an apparent city move to keep any arbitration of the police union's contract under the jurisdiction of the city's Office of Collective Bargaining.

Early last month, the Office of Labor Relations filed a scope of bargaining petition with OCB, asking the agency to rule on whether two sets of demands included in the PBA's contract proposal "were mandatory subjects of bargaining. After seeking two extensions, the police union was required to respond by Dec. 20.

Presenting its answer Dec. 15, the PBA asked for the city's petition to be dismissed on the grounds that the matter belonged before PERB rather than OCB. At the same time, it asked PERB to make a declaration affirming its jurisdiction and went into Albany State Supreme Court seeking a declaratory judgment affirming PERB's responsibility to mediate the contract dispute.

Won't Tip His Hand

"I'm not going to discuss our legal strategy," the Mayor said when asked whether the city is preparing to mount a court challenge to the PBA's right to seek PERB arbitration.

Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley said that papers on the PBA's filings with PERB, OCB and the Albany court had been served late Dec. 15 and that the city was still considering its response.

The Labor Relations Commissioner concurred with Mr. Seabrook's assessment of the city's bargaining session with the uniformed forces coalition, calling it "very positive." He said another round of talks is set for Dec. 22.

'City Shows Bad Faith'

"It's unfortunate that the city has chosen not to negotiate in good faith with the PBA," said the union's president Patrick J. Lynch. "We put a proposal on the table that would solve the city's problems with recruitment and retention while providing a decent and livable wage for cops. But they have yet to move off of an offer that is less than zero."

Mr. Lynch said that the union preferred to reach a negotiated settlement but had turned to PERB because the city had refused to budge from its original cost-cutting proposals. "We'd be glad to go back into negotiations," he said.

Asked if he expected a legal challenge to the PBA's right to seek PERB mediation, the PBA leader replied, 'I'm sure they will try to do that, but the law is on our side."

The police union succeeded in getting legislation enacted in December 1998 that placed police and fire contracts under PERB jurisdiction, culminating a 10-year battle to free itself from OCB mediation.

The PBA sought the switch with the expectation that PERB arbitrators would be able to take into account the disparity between the salaries earned by city cops and those prevailing in better-paid suburban departments in the metropolitan area.

The union has long pointed to a 40-percent wage gap between NYPD officers and their counterparts in Nassau and Suffolk counties. More recently, it has presented figures indicating that even officers in Newark, an urban center with a considerably weaker financial base than the city, earn 27 percent more than city cops when their salaries are computed on an hourly basis. 

A Double Whammy

After two OCB arbitration awards that imposed the municipal "pattern" upon the PBA, including the "double zeroes" of the last contract, the police union stepped up its campaign for the PERB legislation.

The city's expected legal challenge to PERB jurisdiction would be aimed at de- fending pattern bargaining and parity between the PBA and the other uniformed service unions.

The possibility that OLR would work to speedily conclude a contract settlement with the uniformed forces coalition would place added pressure on the largest police union, which struck out on its own in an attempt to achieve a settlement independent of any citywide pattern.