The Chief
October 19, 2001

UFA Postpones Contract Ballot Amid Mourning

Cops Could Look To Hazardous-Duty Differential

By WILLIAM VAN AUKEN

The Uniformed Firefighters' Association, reeling from the loss of more than 250 of its members and preoccupied with a seemingly endless round of funerals and arrangements to support the families of fallen comrades, has indefinitely postponed a rank-and-file vote on a tentative bargaining agreement with the city.

While declining to discuss the issue publicly, saying it is too soon to even consider the tragedy's implications for collective bargaining, firefighter union insiders privately acknowledge that the pact would likely go down to defeat if it were submitted to the membership.

A membership meeting had been scheduled for Oct. 11, where the pact would have been submitted to a roll-call vote by UFA delegates.  Ballots would have gone out the next week.

Just Work and Mourn

"We're still pulling our guys out and we're still mourning; all we do is work and go to funerals," said one Firefighter when asked about the contract at a firehouse in lower Manhattan.

"We're sad and we're angry, and we can't even think about this right now."

As he spoke, the FDNY had announced 21 funerals for that coming Saturday.

He and several co-workers allowed that if the tentative agreement were brought to a vote it would be rejected "unanimously."  They added that before Sept. 11 they had believed it would pass.  With the huge sacrifice in lives, however, the wage settlement of two 5-percent raises over 30 months reached between the city and the Uniformed Forces Coalition looked more and more like an insult.

Aside from mediation sessions organized by the state Public Employment Relations Board between the city and the two largest unions still without a contract-the United Federation of Teachers and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association-labor relations activity has been concentrated exclusively in recent weeks on organizing benefits for victims of the World Trade Center disaster.

"Honoring Sacrifice"

"We're taking care of benefits issues and doing the best we can for those poor souls who made the ultimate sacrifice." Said Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley.  "All our focus is on that."

Mr. Hanley dismissed talk of the UFA contract being scuttled in the wake of the Sept. 11 catastrophe.  "They're not focusing on those issues, and I don't know how they possibly could.  We all have much more important things to do."

The police unions have also directed their efforts almost exclusively in recent weeks to the rescue and recovery operation and caring for the families of 23 cops missing in the rubble.

PERB held the first mediation session last week on the PBA contract dispute, even as the city presses forward with a challenge to the state agency's jurisdiction before the state Court of Appeals.  Oral arguments in that appeal of lower-court rulings affirming PERB's role are expected in early November.

Underscores Argument

The PBA, meanwhile, said that the loss of cops' lives in the terrorist attach underscored the union's argument that cops deserve higher salaries.

"We were hoping that the sacrifice made in the World Trade Center tragedy would shed some light on the negotiations," said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch.  "But I'm a pessimist and I don't think that will happen with this administration."

Mr. Lynch said that the disaster would ultimately exacerbate the NYPD's mounting problems in recruiting new cops and retaining experienced ones.  "They're going to go home from working the 12-hour tours of the past weeks and begin to process the enormity of what happened and realize the different type of danger they are under as Police Officers." He said.  "They're also going to look at their paychecks and realize that all that money is pensionable, and it's going to move people to leave this job."

Can Boost Pensions 20%

Police pensions are based on the final year's salary, and the continuous 12-hour days that cops have worked since the attack on the Trade Center would boost their benefits considerably.  Pension regulations limit to 20 percent the amount that benefits can be increased by overtime earnings.

Mr. Lynch said that the PBA would consider seeking hazardous-duty pay just as it would examine any means to "get cops more money," but that the union would continue to concentrate on a major increase in base pay.

The police union's chief negotiator, Robert W. Linn, reiterated this approach, arguing that what Police Officers need is a "market adjustment" to their salaries to bring them up to prevailing rates paid in other departments.

'Lowest-Paid at Site'

"When this disaster occurred, it was clear that New York City police officers and firefighters are the best in the world," he said.  "The sad fact is, though, of the police personnel working at that disaster site, New York City Police Officers are probably the lowest-paid there.  This just underscored that the city has got to pay these workers a competitive rate."

The city's compensation system is out of sync with the labor market, he argued.  City cops, Mr. Linn said, are paid at one of the lowest hourly rates in the country, while other titles, such as Sanitation Worker, are paid at the highest.

"This horror makes it clear that you have to have a police force that is good," said the negotiator.  "With tough economic times coming, the city is going to have to focus the money where there are competitive needs."

'Hazard' Escapes Pattern

Other police union leaders insisted that, in light of the disaster, the city should consider including extra compensation for cops and firefighters in the form of hazardous-duty pay.  By recognizing the added dangers inherent in the two jobs, they said, negotiators could bypass the bargaining pattern set by civilian unions.

The idea of compensating uniformed emergency service workers for hazardous duty has been floated periodically by the police unions since the 1970s.  Union leaders feel that the massive loss of life on Sept. 11, however, gives the argument unprecedented force.

The Detectives' Endowment Association has yet to submit the contract to its membership.  Its president, Thomas J. Scotto, voted against the tentative pact when it was submitted to the Uniformed Forces Coalition.

"When the dust has settled from this," said Mr. Scotto, "I think it would be a good idea for the Mayor to make peace with the Police Department and the Fire Department and acknowledge that they have a much more dangerous job than other city employees."

'Recognize Job's Danger'

Mr. Scotto said that a hazardous-duty approach should be examined.  "You could recognize the danger faced by police, provide a line for compensation in that area while removing it from the issue of parity," he said.  "The city should sit down and reach a fair and equitable settlement with both the police and the firefighters and avert the need to go to PERB.  I think it can be done."

Sergeants' Benevolent Association President  Bernard B. Pound said he would also raise the issue of hazardous-duty pay in contract negotiations.  Mr. Pound joined Mr. Scotto in voting against the pact in the uniformed coalition, and it was subsequently voted down by the SBA's delegate body.

"Hazardous duty goes without saying; it's the nature of the job," said Mr. Pound.  "I would certainly consider raising it in my demands to the city.  The city should get its head out of the sand; they already had a problem with morale, recruitment and retention, and it's not going to get any better with this event."