The Chief
April 12, 2002

City to PERB: Give PBA 9.8% Over 2 Years

Says Pattern Is Sacred, Cop Pay on Par, Attrition Minor

By William Van Auken

'COP SALARIES A LAUGHINGSTOCK': Patrolmen's Benevolent Association negotiator Robert W. Linn says decisions by successive mayoral administrations to limit pay hikes for police officers to no better - and in one case worse - than those granted to other municipal workers during the 1990's have created a national perception that New York's Finest are underpaid.

The city is calling for an arbitration award of 9.8 percent over two years for the city's 24,000 Police Officers, less than half the amount demanded by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

In its recent presentation to a three-member state Public Employment Relations Board arbitration panel, the city's Office of Labor Relations insisted that a salary hike that breaks the pattern already established by the 13-union Uniformed Forces Coalition would deepen the city's fiscal crisis and create "chaos" in the new round of bargaining that begins this year.

Never Bucked Pattern

The city's 120-page "Pre-Hearing Memorandum" recounts more than a quarter-century's worth of collective bargaining history to make the case that "the PBA has never received a settlement contrary to the principles of pattern bargaining."

If further contends that the present situation does not justify a break with this historical precedent. The city provided data indicating that the recruitment and retention problems cited by the police union do not constitute a crisis, and that city cops receive better compensation than the great majority of their counterparts in the nation's 20 largest cities.

The PBA has insisted that cops deserve a "market adjustment" because their pay has fallen sharply in comparison with other jurisdictions. The union also argues that "lockstep pattern bargaining" has become increasingly irrational, as no similar market disparity exists for Firefighters, Sanitation Workers and Correction Officers, whose salaries are pegged by the pattern to those of Police Officers.

Union's Interpretation

While the union charges that the city's data is misleading and fails to factor in New York City's high cost of living, it maintains that it still spells out a sharp drop in the salary of city cops compared to their counterparts in other parts of the country.

The PERB panel held three days of hearings in late March to consider the arguments on pattern bargaining. More hearings will take place on April 22 and 23 to deal with the city's ability to pay and the general welfare of the public, two key criteria set by the Taylor Law in determining a binding arbitration award. Rebuttal arguments are scheduled for the end of the month, with a possible second round in May.

The award proposed by the city would grant Police Officers a 5-percent salary hike on the first day of the contract followed by a 4-percent compounded increase on the first day of the 13th month of the pact. It would also include a $200 Welfare Fund increase already negotiated as part of the Municipal Labor Committee agreement that would take effect on the last day of the contract.

Finally, the city has called for the inclusion in the pact of "Merit pay" language allowing the Police Department to grant salary hikes to individual cops based on superior performance. Similar language was included in the Uniformed Coalition agreement, as well as in every civilian settlement.

'Must Motivate Them'

"At a time when public safety is critical to the long-term well-being of the city at large, we must move forward compensation programs that hold police officers accountable for their performance and motivate them to improve," the city's memorandum states. "Thus, this panel should recommend that the NYPD have the discretion to reward individual excellence in policing based on appropriate measures and outcomes, as an important way of ensuring accountability and improving the city's police force."

The last contract covering city cops expired in July 2000, so all of the raises would be retroactive.

Tied to Coalition Terms

The net cost to the city for the 24-month package would be 9.8 percent, which is the same value as the first two years of the Uniformed Coalition's bargaining agreement. That deal was lengthened by two three-month extensions to provide two 5-percent salary hikes, plus an additional 1.5-percent unit bargaining increase to pay for unique benefits for each of the coalition's member unions.

PERB binding arbitration awards are limited to two years absent an agreement by both parties to make them longer.

Two of the coalition's members - the Uniformed Firefighters' Association and the Detectives' Endowment Association - have held off ratification of the agreement, while a third, the Sergeants' Benevolent Association, has rejected it. All three unions are awaiting the outcome of the PBA's PERB arbitration, hoping that they can reproduce any; pattern-busting award achieved by the largest police union.

The PBA's salary proposal calls for 21.9 percent in four steps over the same two years.

Labor Relations Commissioner James Hanley did not return calls seeking comment on the city's position.

Granting the PBA's demand for a pattern-breaking award, the city warns, would "destroy the delicate fabric of pattern bargaining and the parity relationships which have long been the frame-work of municipal labor relations."

Who Would Go First?

If the police union were allowed to achieve a substantially improved deal, according to the Office of Labor Relations, other union leaders would face a backlash from their members and no one would want to make the first agreement with the city in future bargaining rounds for fear of being "upstaged" by a holdout.

"Each labor leader, particularly if he or she has the courage to make the first settlement in a round of negotiations, is always concerned that his or her credibility will be destroyed in the eyes of the membership should another union later achieve a richer settlement," the city's memorandum states. "Without pattern bargaining, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for any union to settle first."

Without the pattern, it continues, municipal unions would engage in "Unrestrained competition." "leap-frogging" one another.

No Hiring Crisis?

In its argument before PERB, the city dismissed PBA claims that the city is facing an unprecedented recruitment and retention crisis that can only be cured by providing salaries that are competitive with other near-by Police Departments.

"The number of police officers leaving for jobs in surrounding jurisdiction represents a minuscule percentage of New York City police officers," according to the city. "There is, moreover, no evidence that attrition rates for police officers constitute a 'unique' or 'compelling' problem" that would justify a departure from the pattern.

It cites the NYPD's ability to hire 8,000 new cops since 1998, while pointing to continuing signs of economic downturn as good news for the department's recruiting section.

Recruitment Aids

"New York City lost 132,000 jobs in 2001 and unemployment in the city has jumped to a level not seen in many years," the city's memorandum states. "Virtually every sector of the economy has been laying off employees; and there appears to be an abundance of talented individuals looking for employment in the city." It adds that the events of Sept. 11 "have effected a positive change in the public perception of police officers" that will attract even more candidates.

The document attributes previous hiring problems to the robust economy of the 1990s and the "unfortunate impact on the public perception of police officers that inevitably flowed from episodes such as whose involving Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo."

As for retention, the city contends that the growing wave of police retirements is rooted not in dissatisfaction with pay, but rather in the large number of cops who entered the "super classes" of the early 1980's after the hiring freeze imposed during the fiscal crisis ended who are now hitting their 20th year and becoming eligible to retire.

Big OT a Factor

This trend has been compounded, it adds, by the large amount of overtime earned during "Operation Condor" and in the months following Sept. 11. With police officers' pensions pegged to their last year's salaries, recent extraordinary overtime earnings provide a string incentive for cops to put in their papers.

Citing exit polls conducted by the NYPD, the city states that from 1998 to 2001 only 170 officers of all ranks left the NYPD to join other police departments - less than one-half of 1 percent of the uniformed headcount. During that same period, it adds, not a single New York City police officer left to join the Newark Police Department, whose salary scale the PBA singled out as the basis for its demand for a "market adjustment."

The memorandum added that the attrition rate for Police Officers - 6.6 percent in calendar year 2001 - compared favorably with other titles, including: Sanitation Officers, 8.9 percent; Correction Captains, 8.8 percent; Sanitation Workers, 7.0 percent; and Correction Officers, 6.0 percent.

The RN Exodus

By contrast, Registered Nurses, whose 1988 pattern breaking agreement was cited by the PBA as a precedent for awarding cops higher raises, faced a far graver retention crisis. According to the memorandum, there were 1,000 nursing vacancies at the time of the negotiations, and a 41.9 percent attrition rate among first year nurses.

Advancing arguments that the city will undoubtedly amplify in the next round of hearings, the memorandum points to the $5 billion deficits projected over the next three fiscal years to make the case that a pattern-busting agreement would damage the city's fiscal health.

"The profoundly troubling downturn in the economy since the pattern was established would arguably justify an economic offer to the PBA that is less than the uniformed pattern," it states. "It certainly does not justify a wage increase in excess of the pattern."

This is particularly true, the city adds, given that the next round of collective bargaining will begin in a few months and that economic conditions "will require that the new administration request sacrifices by the very unions that established the uniformed and coalition patterns."

City: Costs $425M

The city puts the cost of the PBA's demand for 21.92 percent in raises over two years at $425 million.

The memorandum rejects the PBA's argument that the far higher salaries paid to police officers in surrounding jurisdictions, including Suffolk and Nassau Counties as well the Port Authority Police Department, should be taken into account in determining an arbitration award. Instead, it insists that comparison should be made to the 20 largest U.S. cities, which it claims face more similar policing responsibilities as well as budgetary constraints.

Faults PBA Priorities

While acknowledging that starting pay for city cops "compares somewhat less favorably" to the other major cities, it attributes that to the PBA's bargaining strategy in the 1987 and 1990 bargaining rounds when it funded greater benefits for police veterans by "sacrificing the unborn," or limiting raises for new hires.

Even so, the city's figures indicate, the compensation per hour worked for city cops is 105 percent of the national big city average for first-year officers, 128 percent after five years, 122 percent after 10 years and 119 percent after 15 years.

The PBA's chief negotiator, Robert W. Linn, who is a former city Labor Relations Director, said that even if one accepts these statistics at face value, they indicate a 20-percent relative drop in city cops' salaries compared to those in other major cities. Statistics that OLR provided for the 1990 bargaining round showed first-year cops were paid 127 percent of the national average, for example, and five-year cops 147 percent.

'Why Did Pay Lag?'

"What possible reason is there for salaries to have fallen 20 percent during the boom years of the 1990's?" asked Mr. Linn. "It certainly couldn't be a lack of productivity." The change, he said, stemmed from the city's "unilateral" decision to hold Police Officers' salary increases to the pattern established by civilian unions over the past decade, ending the earlier practice of granting cops a somewhat higher raise. Other cities, he said, continued to grant their police greater increases.

Mr. Linn also rejected the city's claim that the 20 largest cities are the best comparison for NYPD salaries. El Paso, one of the cities listed in the city's brief, he noted, is no longer even among the top 20. It also has a smaller number of police officers than Nassau and Suffolk Counties as well as the Port Authority Police Department.

It and other Texas cities on the list, he added, have living costs that are easily 25 percent cheaper than those prevailing in New York, a difference that is not factored into the city's comparisons.

Ignored College Bonus

Finally, Mr. Linn said, the city's compensation figures failed to take into account significant compensation enjoyed by cops in other departments that does not exist in the NYPD. In the last bargaining round in Boston, for example, the police union traded in a wage increase for an education differential that fives cops with associate degrees 21 percent and those with master's 25 percent. Half of the bargaining unit, he said, receives extra pay on this basis. The city's figures, he said, ignore this increase, listing Boston's salaries as unchanged from the previous year.

"New York City police salaries are a laughingstock; throughout the nation everyone knows that city cops are underpaid," Mr. Linn said, "This is creating a pressure cooker that has to have an escape valve, and we're hoping that the PERB panel is that escape valve."