The Chief
July 20, 2001

Court Upholds PBA Victory on PERB

Appellate Decision

By Willian Van Auken

Pat Lynch      
Patrick J. Lynch: Heartened by ruling  

In a unanimous decision July 12, a five-judge panel of the State Appellate Division upheld a law placing the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association under the jurisdiction of the state Public Employment Relations Board for the purpose of impasse arbitration.

The PBA sponsored the legislation, which was enacted in 1998, with the aim of finding a more friendly forum to present its case for awarding a pattern-busting salary hike to its 27,000 members.

An Albany State Supreme Court Justice ruled in the union's favor April 16, prompting the city's appeal.

City's Concerns

The city argued in court that the law violates the home rule provisions of the State Constitution, while warning that a PERB award to cops could cost the city more than it is able to pay.

In a strongly worded, seven-page decision, the court called the city's arguments "unpersuasive" and "untenable," asserting that the state "clearly has a substantial interest in the speedy resolution of labor disputes between its municipalities and their police and fire departments."

The city had claimed that the law applied only to the four localities that created "mini-PERBs" - the city, with its Board of Collective Bargaining, and Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester Counties - and therefore violated home rule statutes.

The appellate court rejected this argument, however, pointing out that the law covers all the police and firefighter contracts throughout the state.

Before the enactment of the legislation, it added, "The Taylor Law had general equal application to every local government in the state and permitted all of them to prevent their public service unions from utilizing PERB's dispute resolution procedures by creating their own mini-PERB." Thus, it added, the new act applied equally to all local governments, by barring them from unilaterally preventing their police and fire unions from seeking PERB arbitration.

The appellate court also backed the lower court ruling that PERB has exclusive jurisdiction over scope of bargaining disputes between the city and the PBA.

The legal battle was sparked when the city's Office of Labor Relations filed a scooping petition with the BCB, seeking to have some of the union's demands as well as provisions in the expired contract declared non-mandatory subjects of bargaining. The union demanded that the city's petition be dismissed, insisting that the matter belonged before PERB, and went to State Supreme Court in Albany seeking a judgment to that effect.

Too Many Cooks

"The Supreme Court correctly observed that accepting the city's contention [on BCB jurisdiction over scope of bargaining] would create the 'absurdity' of having 'two separate agencies on two different levels of government attempting to separately resolve the intertwined issues of scope of bargaining and impasse resolution,'" the judges wrote.

The PBA hailed the ruling as a "significant and unprecedented court victory." The police union's president, Patrick J. Lynch, urged the city to "return to the bargaining table with a realistic offer or prepare to arbitrate the impasse before PERB."

Mr. Lynch added, "The sooner the city starts paying its Police Officers the decent and livable wage they deserve, the sooner it will solve its crisis in police recruitment and retention."

The city's Police Officers have been working without a contract since June 30 of last year. Long-stalled talks between the PBA and the city resumed briefly in May at the behest of the Albany State Supreme Court. While the union had asked for a 39-percent salary hike over two years, the city has offered a 2.5-percent increase in the first year and 3-percent in the second.

One More Appeal

The city intends to appeal the latest ruling to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, said Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel Leonard Koerner. "Because it involves a constitutional issue of home rule, we can bring the case to the court by right," he said, rather than asking permission to appeal. He pointed out that it was the Court of Appeals that overturned a more narrowly crafted law that the PBA previously sponsored to achieve the same purpose.

"We are going to recommend that this case be heard on an expedited basis," said Mr. Koerner. "Both the city and the union are interested in seeing it settled as quickly as possible."

City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone, meanwhile, urged the Giuliani administration to drop its court fight and negotiate a settlement with the PBA.

"The courts have spoken twice," said Mr. Vallone. "We cannot continue to lose Police Officers, Teachers, librarians and other city workers to higher-paying jobs in the suburbs. We must stop this inertia and move forward for the safety of our residents and the stability of our Police Department."