The Chief
March 22, 2002

PBA Argues For 2-Year, 21.9% Wage Increase

Tells PERB Key Issue Is Comparability, Not Pattern

By William Van Auken

   
PATRICK J. LYNCH: Decent raises a safety issue  

Negotiators for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association put forward a proposal for a 21.9-percent salary hike over two years for the city's 24,000 Police Officers, telling a three-member state arbitration panel March 18 that the disparity between salaries paid to city cops and the amounts earned by their counterparts in surrounding jurisdictions far outweighed the city's concerns about maintaining a bargaining pattern set with other municipal unions.

Union officials said that the total package would amount to 34 percent with the implementation of additional PBA proposals. These include rolling longevity increments into base salary when applying pay hikes, a $1,600 annual defibrillation/first responder pay supplement, applying shift differential pay to vacation and sick time, and monetary awards for limited use of non-line-of-duty sick leave.

A Test of the 'Pattern'

The city was expected to counter with a proposal of a 9-percent increase over two years, modeled on the package accepted by the Uniformed Forces Coalition last summer. Two unions that participated with that coalition - the Uniformed Firefighters' Association and the Detectives' Endowment Association - have not ratified the settlement, while a third, the Sergeants' Benevolent Association, rejected it. All three are closely following the PBA arbitration with the aim of piggybacking onto a new and higher pattern.

Citing the city's nearly $5 billion budget deficit, Mayor Bloomberg recently declared that the city would 'have a tough time coming up with anything more if the arbitration panel rules that."

"The city cannot afford not to do this," countered PBA President Patrick J. Lynch on the eve of the arbitration. "Everything else follows from what police officers do out on the street. If people don't feel safe in the city, tourism won't come back and business won't stay."

City cops have been working without a contract since July 2000, and all of the raises ultimately granted in a binding arbitration award would be retroactive.

The first set of three arbitration sessions this week takes up questions of pay comparability and the pattern set by prior municipal bargaining. A second round set for April will deal with ability to pay, when the city's Office of Labor Relations is expected to advance its strongest arguments. Final arguments will be heard in May, and a binding award is expected in July.

The first arbitration session, which began as this newspaper went to press, was held before a three-member panel selected under the auspices of the state Public Employment Relations Board.

PBA Wins Legal Battle

The PBA waged a yearlong legal battle to defend 1998 legislation placing it under PERB's jurisdiction for the purpose of impasse arbitration. That fight ended last December when the state Court of Appeals rejected the city's claim that police and fire contracts should be kept under the city's Board of Collective Bargaining.

The PBA's longstanding contention that PERB offered a move favorable forum than the BCB was reflected in the brief it filed with the arbitration panel last week.

"There is a crucial distinction between the criteria for interest arbitrations under the Taylor Law, which stresses external comparisons between or among similar employees, and the binding impasse procedure under the New York City Collective Bargaining Law, which provides predominant weight to the internal settlements of impasse awards affecting the first significant group of employees to settle with the City of New York," the union contended in its brief.

Compare With Other Cops

To bolster this argument, the PBA brief cited a 1997 PERB arbitration award to the New York State Troopers PBA, which stated that it was necessary to place a greater emphasis on other police officers rather than other employees employed by the state" because other state workers "do not face the type and degree of hazards faced by police officers and are not required to possess the combination of physical and mental skills police officers must acquire."

The city's former Director of Labor Relations, Robert W. Linn, who is the PBA's lead negotiator, has pegged the PBA's salary demand to achieving parity in terms of basic maximum compensation with what police officers in Newark, NJ earn as a first step toward catching up with other jurisdictions.

"The PBA recognizes that it will have to continue to seek in future negotiations what it cannot achieve in one fell swoop here, and thus has moderated its pay increase proposal to 21.9% in four steps over two years," the brief stated. Given that PERB allows to cover no more that two years, the union would be facing a contract expiration and a new round of bargaining by July of this year.

Losing Ground

To make its case that Police Officers have seen their salaries badly eroded over the last decade due to "lock-step pattern bargaining," the PBA brief cites data presented by the OLR in a 1990-91 impasse proceeding in which the city sought to favorably compare city cops' pay to the rates prevailing in neighboring jurisdictions and other large cities in New York.

While in 1990, city cops' average hourly compensation ranked seventh among the 13 jurisdictions cited and amounted to 95 percent of the average pay for all those departments, by 2000 the NYPD's hourly rate had fallen to 10th, and represented just 79 percent of the average.

Thus, while city cops and those in Newark both earned approximately $22 an hour in 1990, by 2000 Newark officers were paid an average hourly rate of $36.01, while the rate for the city was $28.73.

Behind Other Big Cities

A similar disparity exists between city Police Officers and their counterparts in other large U.S. cities, the union argues. The brief states that while NYPD cops increased their pay by 27 percent between 1990 and 2000, the average increases for big city departments was 45 percent.

The gap in real income is even more stark, the union contends, when New York City's higher cost of living is factored into the police salary comparisons. The brief put living costs in the city at 52 percent above the national average, and 21 percent above the average of the 20 other largest U.S. cities. Factoring in the cost-of-living differences NYPD cops earn less than their counterparts in 19 of those 20 cities, leading only Baltimore by less than $2 an hour.

The police union sought to counter the city's anticipated argument that while their salaries may be lower, city Police Officers enjoy richer pension and health benefits. The PBA opposes the use of such a comparison, contending that the annual cost of retiree benefits can fluctuate from year to year with no relation to base salary. It also contends that the city's per-capita benefit costs are 5 percent below the average for other large cities.

To bolster its demand for a "market" salary hike, the police union pointed to the NYPD's well-publicized recruitment and retention problems. It also invoked the events of Sept. 11, citing both the heroism and sacrifice exhibited by Police Officers in responding to the World Trade Center attacks and the increased responsibilities and dangers they confront in their aftermath.

It warned that lagging pay is creating a morale problem that may yield a breakdown in effective policing. City cops, the brief warned, "are at or near the point of diminishing returns where the smaller, less-qualified work force that the city's proposal may attract no longer will be able to keep up the historic crime reductions achieved during the 1990's, or otherwise provide the level of professional emergency services in responding to the types of extraordinary crises that we all have witnessed in the past seven months. Particularly now, a city protected by a shrinking force of grossly underpaid (and, thus, under-appreciated) Police Officers is a troubling proposition."

Kelly: Not Slacking Off

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly last week, declined to comment on the PBA's salary demand, but discounted claims of a moral crisis. "Everybody would like more pay, and I think that the cops have done a terrific job," he said. "I see great work done every day, and I don't see any evidence that it is slacking off."

The union's brief also takes on the city's anticipated argument that awarding Police Officers a substantially higher salary increase than what has been granted to other municipal employees would disrupt labor relations.

Mr. Linn was prepared to illustrate his argument by pointing to bargaining strategies pursued when he served as the city's chief negotiator in the 1980's, when a two-tier approach was adopted towards the uniformed forcers and civilians.

Nurse Comparison

He also pointed to the pattern-busting settlement reached with the union representing the city's Registered Nurses in the late 1980's as a precedent for the demands being made by the police union. That package provided 74 percent in pay increases over four years to counter severe recruitment and retention problems that the PBA says were comparable to what the NYPD now faces with cops. The raise was aimed at achieving pay parity with large voluntary hospitals.

The PBA also maintains that in the current round of bargaining the city has already broken the pattern by providing different wage packages to three different sections of workers: one to most civilian workers, a slightly higher one for the Uniformed Forces Coalition, and a settlement for the New York Public Library librarians that granted an additional 8 percent on top of the 4 percent per year provided in the contract won by the rest of District Council 37.

Even if there was an ironclad pattern, The PBA brief argues, other sections of the municipal work force do not suffer from the same salary gap vis-à-vis their counterparts in other cities.

'Captains Better Off'

The NYPD's Captains rank well above their cohorts in other jurisdictions; so it is no wonder that they jumped at the opportunity to lock in the increases proposed by the city late last year," the document states. "Significantly, hourly compensation of city Firefighters and Teachers also rank well above the average of the top national cities. Finally, it is widely acknowledged that city Sanitation Workers are among the highest paid in the nations, and it is astonishing that, only in New York City, a Police Officer earns virtually the same compensation as the driver or loader of a garbage truck."

Summing up, the brief called the city's claim that higher raises for cops would provoke "chaos" in labor relations "as insulting and specious here as were its similar arguments of fantasy resoundingly rejected by the New York State Court of Appeals." It continued, "In the face of a market-based justification specific to Police Officers, responding to the external market does not destroy pattern bargaining and create chaos, it makes such bargaining viable."