The Chief
August 3, 2001

Now, the Hard Bargaining

The Giuliani administration's tentative contract agreement with the Uniformed Forces Coalition brings a major sector of the uniformed work force under contract -assuming, of course, the deal earns rank-and-file ratification.

The agreement also clears the decks-or sets the table, in the case of one of the relevant parties-for the administration to reach contracts with the two biggest holdouts among the Municipal Unions, the United Federation of Teachers and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Both those unions have made clear that they believe raises significantly exceeding the 10-percent hikes over 30 months provided by the coalition deal will be necessary if the city hopes to address severe recruitment and retention problems within their memberships.

While PBA negotiator Bob Linn said he was encouraged that the administration had gone above the DC 37 financial terms to get a deal with the other uniformed unions, the difference between the two contracts is marginal.  Even allowing for the certainty that PBA President Pat Lynch does not expect to get the full 39 percent raise he has publicly sought, he clearly is not looking for a deal that is only marginally better that what other uniformed unions accepted.

Should his contract dispute wind up being decided by the Public Employment Relations Board, Mr. Lynch will be hamstrung if the Uniformed Firefighter's Association-whose members have historically had a direct salary relationship with Police Officers for more than a century-has ratified its deal.

At the same time, arbitrators will have to be mindful of the salary comparisons the PBA can muster showing a huge gap not only with the suburbs but with financially less-well-off cities like Newark.  They also should bear in mind that the Police Department has been unable to fill all the budgeted seats for its last two police classes.

For the UFT, the recruitment situation is even more favorable from a bargaining leverage standpoint, although it is horrendous for the state of education in city public schools.  The Board of Education last week disclosed that it so far is 3,000 Teachers short of what it needs to fully staff classrooms in September, and that of the 5,000 new Teachers it has brought on, only about 2,800 are state-certified.  Already the Board of Ed had about 15,000 uncertified teachers working in the public schools; the new ones, combined with the vacant teacher slots, right now mean that 20,000 classrooms may not be staffed by fully qualified Teachers.

The Teacher situation is urgent, and one in which substandard salaries are the largest contributing factor.  The problems recruiting cops are growing increasingly serious as well.  Major Giuliani faces a compelling test in his last five months in office:  will he be daring and creative enough to boost salaries for these two jobs enough to remedy those problems and can it be done without significantly disrupting basic bargaining relationships?