The Chief
August 24, 2001

PERB Declares Impasse in PBA Contract Talks

Viani Named Mediator, City Still Appealing Jurisdiction

By Willian Van Auken

IThe Public Employment Relations Board Aug. 15 ruled that the contract talks between the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Giuliani administration were deadlocked.

PERB appointed Alan R. Viani to mediate the dispute. If mediation fails, an impartial panel will be assigned to arbitrate a binding settlement for the city’s 27,000 Police Officers.

‘The First Step’

“We are gratified that PERB agrees with our view that the contract talks are stalemated,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said after the PERB announcement. “The appointment of a mediator is the first step in moving us closer to the day when our members get the salary increase they deserve and at the same time helps the city solve the recruitment and retention crisis it doesn’t seem to want to face.”

The announcement was a blow to the Giuliani administration, which has waged an eight-month-long legal battle attempting to block the city’s largest police union from bringing its contract dispute to the state arbitration board.

The PBA filed for impasse in December, but the state board withheld any action while the union and the city fought in court over the constitutionality of the PBA-blocked law enacted in 1998 placing police and fire contracts under PERB jurisdiction.

The city provoked the legal fight by filing a scope of bargaining petition with the city’s Board of Collective Bargaining, prompting the PBA to file for impasse with PERB while going to court seeking a declaration that the state’s board – and not the city’s – had jurisdiction.

In April, a State Supreme Court Justice in Albany dismissed the city’s challenge to the law, and last month an appellate court upheld that decision.

The city is continuing the legal fight with a final appeal to the state’s highest court. That court, the Court of Appeals, has refused, however, to grant a temporary restraining order halting PERB action pending its decision.

Knows the Territory

In making the impasse announcement, Robert A. Curreri, PERB’s Director of Conciliation, said that Mr. Viani “may well have greater familiarity with the problems and needs of labor and management in the City of New York than does any other neutral. The wealth of experience he has both as a negotiator and mediator with uniform service and other metropolitan area bargaining units certainly should help to get talks between the City and the PBA back on track.”

Mr. Viani has been an active participant in city labor relations for more than 35 years, beginning as a president of the Social Service Employees’ Union in the mid-1960’s and later becoming the director of research and negotiations for District Council 37.

Mr. Viani served as DC 37’s chief negotiator for many years, participating in numerous bargaining battles and playing a central role in the agreement by city unions to invest pension funds in city bonds in order to avert a municipal bankruptcy.

Former OCB Chairman

From 1985 until the end of 1992, Mr. Viani served as the Deputy Chairman for Dispute Resolution with the city’s Office of Collective Bargaining. Since 1993, he has had a full-time private practice as a mediator and arbitrator, serving both PERB and BCB panels.

“I’m always hopeful,” said Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley after PERB’s decision. “We settle contracts with all of the other unions and we can do that here, too.”

Despite Mr. Hanely’s optimism, it appears that Mr. Viani will have his work cut out for him. The two sides have remained far apart throughout the bargaining process, which began before the police union’s contract expired on July 31 of last year.

The PBA has demanded a “market adjustment” that it says is necessary to recruit and retain Police Offices in the city by bringing salaries up to a level commensurate with what cops are paid in surrounding jurisdictions. It proposed a 39-percent wage hike, the amount it says would be needed to raise the hourly rate paid to city Police Officers to what cops are paid by the hour in Newark, NJ.

City Offers Pattern

The city, meanwhile, has offered no more than the pattern established in negotiations with DC 37 of 8 percent over two years.

Mr. Viani will likely meet with the city and the union this week and then begin a process of  “shuttle diplomacy,” bringing proposals back and forth between them.

“He is a very skilled mediator, and should be able to see if there is ability to move this forward or not,” said the PBA’s chief negotiator, Robert Linn. “We should meet some time soon, and we’ll see if the city is serious and prepared to put forward a reasonable proposal.”

The speed with which PERB declared an impasse in the PBA contract talks appeared to take the city by surprise. It had expected that continuing legal appeals would drag out the process for considerably longer.

For its part, the PBA is eager to move ahead to the creation of an arbitration panel, which will take place if mediation fails. The police union has long argued that it can get a fairer shake from the state board, because it can give more weight to the disparity between police salaries in the city and the higher compensation paid in suburban departments.

Union’s Case

The police union has repeatedly pointed to police recruitment problems, and the record numbers of cops either retiring or resigning, to support its demand for a salary hike that is substantially higher than what was granted to other municipal unions.

Other uniformed union leaders, however, have expressed skepticism that a PERB panel will award the PBA more than what was recently negotiated by the city and the Uniformed Forces Coalition – two 5-percent raises over 30 months. These officials argue that PERB will be reluctant to break the more than century-old pay parity that has existed between cops and Firefighters, whose union was part of the coalition bargaining.