The Chief
August 8, 2002


PBA Hopes Bump Into Reality

As this newspaper went to press Aug. 5, there were reports that an arbitration panel for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association contract dispute was close to issuing a ruling that would offer cops two possible wage options, both conforming to previous municipal pay deals.

Both, according to the Daily News, would require cops to work 10 additional tours per year, although current tours would be shortened by 20 minutes. Under one option, the extra tours would offset the cost of giving PBA members two 5-percnet raises over 24 months, compared to the 30-months, compared to the 30-month duration of a deal providing such hikes to other uniformed workers, including NYPD Lieutenants and Captains. The second option would extend the deal to a length similar to the Uniformed Forces Coalition pact and offer a more generous raise, the News reported.

Reactions by cops in the field, including at least one union delegate, were angry, according to the News.

Part of the discontent is attributable to the belief that Police Officers deserve more money than most city employees as a recognition of their crime-fighting successes, as well as the danger of their jobs that was underscored when 23 of them died during the World Trade Center rescue efforts. Their frustration also stems from a more tangible factor: the belief that past and present PBA leaders communicated to the rank and file that winning the right to arbitration before the Public Employment Relations Board several years ago was a major breakthrough.

PERB's rules place a greater emphasis on compensation for a particular group of employees statewide, where city Office of Collective Bargaining arbitrators in the past seemed especially mindful of the risks in breaking existing bargaining patterns that had been established under contracts with other municipal unions.

PBA officials also believed that OCB arbitrators were reluctant to make awards that were unfavorable to the city, fearing they would be frozen out of future arbitration work if they did. Arbitrators who got most of their business from other parts of the state, the theory went, would not be risking their livelihoods if they concluded the PBA had made a compelling case for breaking a bargaining pattern, and would therefore issue an award based on the merits.

But arbitrators by nature are reluctant to deviate from patterns, in no small measure because they understand the problems this can create in future bargaining if unions become convinced that they can leapfrog another group's settlement merely by waiting out the city and then proceeding to arbitration.

They are also mindful of what is known as "ability to pay," referring to whether an award can be granted without forcing a locality to increase taxes or take other potentially severe steps to keep its budget in balance. There is no question that the city is in difficult fiscal waters right now, making it even more difficult than usual for the arbitrators to justify an award that exceeds those gained by other unions in the current bargaining round. Labor Relations Commissioner Jim Hanley, who prepared the city's arbitration case, noted last week that a panel in Philadelphia cited ability to pay as its primary reason for limiting raises for cops there to a total of 6½ percent over two years under a July 25 award.

We believe, as we've stated in this space several times previously, that the PBA offered powerful arguments for raises above the norm based on problems competing with neighboring jurisdictions for good candidates for police jobs. We felt the same way regarding the United Federation of Teachers' arbitration case, but the PERB panel in that instance based the entire raise exceeding the basic pattern set by District Council 37 on union members putting in longer workdays.

The UFT was able to convince its members that this was an acceptable price to pay, and the 16 to 22 percent in pay raises that deal granted seems to have done much to redress the competition problem, based on reports of much greater success attracting new Teachers who have state certification than the system has been able to in recent years.

The dilemma PBA President Pat Lynch faces is that expectations have been running so high among his members that it will be more difficult for him to convince them that either option under the reported deal is worth embracing. Our hunch is that is why the groundwork for lowering those expectations wasn't being laid by the union immediately after it saw the standards applied to the UFT award.

And the fact that city cops already make more appearances — while earning less — than their counterparts in Nassau and Suffolk counties is likely to compound the resistance to any option that increases the number of tours they work. (The cutback of 20 minutes from the current keep their schedules in line with the requirement that Police Officers be scheduled to work 2,088 hours a year under the Public Officers' Law.)

Even the second option, giving them larger pay increases under a 30-month deal, figures to draw objections because, as PBA bargaining counsel Bob Linn has noted, city Teachers even with their extended days have shorter work schedules than their suburban counterparts.

It doesn't present a happy scenario for Mr. Lynch, but as Mayor Bloomberg could tell him, these are not happy financial times for the city.