The Chief
July 27, 2001

10% Looms as Key for 2-Year 'Uniform' Deal

Negotiations Resume In Shadow of PBA, UFT Arbitrations

By William Van Auken

A collective-bargaining session scheduled for July 26 could prove to be the last real chance for the 13-member uniformed coalition to wrest a contract from the city this summer.

With Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley and several key union presidents having returned from brief vacations, the talks are being resumed in what some union officials describe as a make-or-break situation

UFT, PBA in Equation

Looming over the negotiations between the city and the alliance of superior police officers, firefighters, correction officers and sanitation employees are the anticipated arbitration battles with two larger unions that are holding out for sizable salary hikes - the United Federation of Teachers and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Fact-finding in the UFT contract dispute could start early next month, with the two sides already having arbitrators in place for the three-member panel.

An Albany State Supreme Court Justice, meanwhile, has lifted a temporary restraining order that had blocked the PBA from moving ahead toward binding arbitration of its contract under the state Public Employment Relations Board, while the city continues to appeal court rulings backing a law placing the police union under PERB jurisdiction.

With the Office of Labor Relations confronted with a bargaining war on two key fronts, it is not expected to have much time left over for extended bargaining with the other uniformed unions.

Caught In Between

Scissored between the pattern established by District Council 37 - two 4-percent wage hikes followed by a 1-percent increase over 27 months - and the PBA's demand for a 39-percent raise over two years, the coalition has yet to make public either its bargaining stance or any offers made by OLR.

While the DC 37 deal in April was followed by a handful of smaller unions signing for the same package, it hardly produced the domino effect of other major sections of municipal labor settling for the pattern.

The uniformed union leaders have insisted that their members should not be bound by a pattern set by civilian unions.

The coalition's spokesman, Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook, has remained tight-lipped about the talks since he was quoted in The New York Times in January as saying that a two-year pact with two 5-percent increases would be "a good, realistic settlement." The remark caused some consternation among his uniformed allies. He subsequently indicated that he saw such a raise as the unions' bottom line, and that the coalition would ask for more. Mr. Seabrook did not respond to calls last week seeking a comment on the state of negotiations.

Numbers Gap Narrows

According to sources close to the negotiations, it appears that the closed-door haggling this month has brought the coalition and the city to numbers that are quite close to those that Mr. Seabrook cited in his interview with the Times.

These sources said that the uniformed unions had sought a 5-percent increase in the first year and a 4 ½-percent hike in the second, while the city had alternatively offered a two-year pact with 5 percent and 4 percent, or a 30-month contract, with two 5-percent raises.

None of the uniformed union leaders contacted for this article would confirm these numbers.

If the numbers prove accurate, they may provoke some dissention, particularly within the Sergeants and Detectives unions, where recently promoted cops have their eyes on their former union, the PBA.

"The atmosphere within the job is one of disgust; we haven't been paid and we're not hearing anything," said one Sergeants' Benevolent Association delegate. "Most people are banking on the PBA, and they think that to settle our contract before Pat Lunch settles his would be ludicrous."

At the last union meeting, the delegate said, SBA President Bernard B. Pound declined to answer questions from delegates about how much the city was offering, citing the coalition's agreement not to reveal any numbers until a tentative settlement has been reached.

'Price Key to Sell-Out'

Expectations among police officers have been fueled by the PBA's public relations campaign highlighting NYPD recruitment and retention problems, as well as the union's court victories in its bid to have its contract placed under PERB jurisdiction for the purposes of impasse arbitration.

Some union officials have expressed concern in coalition meetings about "selling out the PBA." The city would like to have a uniformed coalition pact in place before facing arbitration with the PBA. Historically, salaries of firefighters and cops have risen in lock-step, and an agreement signed by the Uniformed Firefighters' Association is expected to have substantial bearing on any negotiated pact or arbitration award subsequently reached by the largest police union.

"They'd be happy to sell out the PBA; it's just a matter of at what cost," said one veteran observer of the city labor scene. He pointed out that there is little love lost between the uniformed coalition leaders and the PBA's chief negotiator, Robert W. Linn.  As Labor Relations Director in the Koch administration in 1988, Mr. Linn negotiated a deal with the PBA that other uniformed union leaders felt came at their expense.

The law placing both police and fire unions under PERB jurisdiction has dealt something of a wild card into the coalition's bargaining strategy, one union leader pointed out. With sanitation and correction unions still covered by the city's Office of Collective Bargaining, it is not clear what would happen should the talks break down irrevocably.

More Legal Battles

While the city would likely bring a scope of bargaining petition to OCB seeking to have parts of the old agreements declared non-mandatory subjects of bargaining, the police and fire unions would demand the right to arbitration under PERB, whose rules prevent stripping expired collective-bargaining agreements in that fashion. The jurisdictional battle would have to be settled in court.

Under the procedures established by the collation, ratification of an agreement requires that four of the five largest unions - COBA, the Detectives' Endowment Association, the UFA, the Uniformed Fire Officers' Association, and the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association - recommend it, and that 11 of the coalition's 13 unions endorse it.

With no news from their unions and after working for more than a year without a new contract, at least some rank-and-file uniformed service workers are feeding the rumor mill about what is going on in the closed-door negotiations.

"We're trying to nip it in the bud," said UFOA President Peter L. Gorman, referring to one rumor circulating though the city's firehouses that the two fire unions are preparing to trade a change in the chart for a salary hike that would more than double the amount won by DC 37.

The 18 for 24s Rumor

According to the firehouse scuttlebutt, the UFOA and the UFA are on the verge of settling for two 9-percent raises over two years in exchange for the introduction of regular 24-hour tours, a move that Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen attempted to introduce a year ago by means of a proposed pilot program. Union protests that any such change would first have to be negotiated stopped the plan.

"It's laughable," said Mr. Gorman of the rumored 18-percent contract. "I wish I could get that for them."

The fire officers' union leader pointed out that neither the unions nor the city have sought to place union issues such as charts on the table, for fear that it would impede agreement on a coalition-wide settlement.

"If we were to bargain on that, it would break up our pact with the Municipal Labor Committee to hammer our a fair wage settlement without productivity agreements or givebacks," said Mr. Gorman.

Despite tensions over the protracted uniformed negotiations, the summer doldrums serve to dampen rank-and-file disquiet.

"This is prime time for vacation and there is sort of a lackadaisical attitude," said Correction Captains' Association President Peter D. Meringolo. His union, like many in the coalition, has no meetings in July and August.

"I figure that at the first meeting in September, my members are going to start asking where we are with the contract," said the Correction Captains' leader. "But then again, with nothing happening, the mindset might be that we're four months away from a new Mayor."

With September and the Democratic primary around the corner, some in uniformed labor are beginning to wonder whether Mayor Giuliani really wants a deal, and whether a better offer might be forthcoming from his successor early next year.

UFOA President Gorman, however, remained optimistic. "I absolutely still think we can get an agreement before the summer is over," he said. "The window of opportunity is getting shorter, but the group is still together, and we're willing to negotiate.