The Chief
August 23, 2002

Finest, Bravest Take to Street

PBA Vows to Fight Extra Tours

By Mark Daly

  
The Chief Leader/Eric Weiss
'DON'T FORGET US': Thousands of angry police officers and firefighters thronged Times Square Aug. 15 to demand higher pay as word filtered out that a state arbitration panel was poised to impose a contract settlement that would require cops to work 10 extra shifts in exchange for any additional increase. "If they can find the money for Teachers, why can't they find it for us?" asked one cop in the crowd.
The Chief Leader/Eric Weiss
VENTING THEIR ANGER: Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch (center) and Uniformed Firefighters' Association President Stephen Cassidy (right) fired a fusillade of harsh words at Mayor Bloomberg from the podium. U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (left) appeared on the stage amid a chorus of boos, but won cheers when she called it 'unconscionable for anyone to deny cops and firefighters a substantial raise.

As 15,000 police officers and firefighters rallied in Times Square Aug. 15 to demand higher wages, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch hinted that he would challenge the legality of an imminent arbitration award if it required officers to work 10 additional days a year for a bigger raise.

“You have to question a proposal that flies in the face of the evidence that was presented,” said Mr. Lynch, referring to the hearings before a state arbitration panel this year at which the union pushed for a 23-percent raise to bridge the wage gap with police departments in Long Island and Newark, N.J.

Preemptive Strike

The PBA scheduled the massive Times Square rally – and sought the support of the Uniformed Firefighters’ Association, which is also without a contract – after the three-member arbitration panel circulated a draft of a binding award that would give cops the 10-percent raise negotiated by the other uniformed unions, but over a shorter, 24-month period, plus 3.5 percent for working 10 additional days.

The draft was awaiting the signature of the impartial chairman of the panel, Dana E. Eischen, who was said to be on vacation last week.

Mr. Lynch said the award “defies logic” because the city never broached the issue of extra tours during the hearings. “They never presented evidence on that,” he said.

Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley countered that the city had proposed funding a bigger raise through extra tours as early as July 2000, when the two sides began contract talks. “We put that demand on the table at the onset of bargaining,” he said.

‘Impending Doom’

From the stage set up at 42nd St. and Broadway, Mr. Lynch, his strained voice cracking, spoke of an “impending doom” that would befall the city from the wave of cop retirements and NYPD recruiting woes. He blamed both problems on Mayor Bloomberg’s refusal to fund a large wage increase.

“The Police Department is dying of a broken heart,” Mr. Lynch told the crowd. That heart is being broken by a Mayor who does not care.”

In the crowd, several cops waved signs with a more cynical message: “The Fix Is In!”

“We are of the opinion that somebody has compromised the allegedly impartial arbitrator,” said PBA spokesman Al O’Leary, when asked about the signs. “At the outset of the hearings, he said he was not going to rule on anything that was not presented to him. There was no discussion of additional tours. If you just look at the case on the merits, the cops get a big raise.”

Mr. O’Leary said if the panel approved an award that required cops to work 10 more days to get a larger raise, “we are going to take a hard look at whether the panel has the statutory authority to do that.”

Mr. Lynch ignored the occasional calls of “Strike! Strike!” from the crowd that stretched four blocks south from the stage, but he used pointed imagery to drive home his message that NYPD’s recruitment and retention problems threatened the city’s well-being.

He called Mayor Bloomberg someone “who counts money as more important than lives” and said, “City Hall, City Hall and City Hall alone is responsible for the crimes that will be committed, the money that will be lost, and the lives we won’t be able to save.”

Mayor Bloomberg attended a firefighter’s wake in Suffolk County on the day of the rally. Afterward, he issued a statement of his support for cops and firefighters “peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.

On the eve of the rally, the Mayor reminded reporters that the PBA had forsaken negotiations to take advantage of a new state law that provides bonding arbitration under the auspices of the Public Employment Relations Board.

‘Unfortunate Choice’

It’s unfortunate that they chose to go that route,” he said. “They will get more than I think a lot of people thought they’d get, by changing the chart and finding efficiencies.”

Mr. O’Leary responded by saying that as recently as three days before the rally, Mr. Lynch visited Mr. Hanley seeking to reopen negotiations, only to be told the city wasn’t interested.

Mr. Bloomberg said an upswing in the city’s economy could be tapped to enhance benefits for all city unions. “For the moment, the only way we can [afford a larger raise] is through efficiencies,” he said. “I cannot manufacture money.”

Firefighters, who were easily identified by their blue company T-shirts, comprised a large portion of the crowd at the two-hour rally. Dozens of white-shirted police supervisors monitored the event, guiding the protesters into pens set up along Broadway in the sweltering midday heat.

UFA President Stephen Cassidy, who is waiting to see what the PBA award augurs for his union’s contract fight, said New York’s Finest and Bravest shared the same disgust over their treatment in contract talks.

Unity Theme

“We’re tired of being told that we wish we had more for you, but you get what everyone else gets,” he said. “This rally is about unifying the Firefighters and the Police Officers in a way they haven’t been unified in a long time.”

At one point, Mr. Lynch led the crowd in a chant that invoked Sept. 11 and the heavy losses the FDNY and NYPD suffered in the destruction of the World Trade Center: “They say never forget – we say already forgotten!”

U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton’s appearance on the stage prompted sustained booing from the boisterous crowd, but that abruptly turned to cheers when she said it wan “unconscionable” for anyone to deny substantial raises for cops and firefighters. “I don’t think there should be zeros for heroes in New York,” she shouted.

The arbitration panel’s draft award does not include any years without a wage increase, but it hews to the citywide pattern in this round of bargaining. All of the raises the panel proposes would be retroactive, since it is restricted by law to issuing a two-year award and the PBA’s previous contract expired on July 31, 2000.

Shorter Shifts

The workday for all Police Officers would be shortened by 20 minutes under the proposal, to eight hours and 15 minutes, through a cut in the paid “wash-up” time before and after their shifts. But cops would have to show up for an additional 10 shifts a year, for a total of 253 working days.

Police Officer Charles Winter, a PBA delegate from the 10th Precinct in Ridgewood, Queens, bridled at being forced to work 10 additional days in exchange for the added raise. “That’s time away from my family. That’s time I should be working overtime,” he said. “It’s an insult.”

“The bottom line is they can find the money. If they can find it for the Teachers, why can’t they find it for us? Asked fellow delegate Ron Wilson.

Firefighters said they shared cops’ misgivings about the award, given the long tradition of pay parity in the two professions. The UFA tabled a 30-month, 10-percent contract offer from the city following the World Trade Center attacks, but observers say the union would face a tough fight to reopen talks or seek a better award from an arbitration panel.

Lower Expectations

Several cops and firefighters who attended the rally admitted the city’s fiscal problems following Sept. 11 had lowered their expectations for a big raise, but they quickly added that their current pay was inadequate.

“Maybe at this point I wouldn’t expect what we asked for prior, but definitely more than was offered,” said a Police Officer from a Chinatown precinct, who declined to give his name. “This is a slap in the face.”

The officer, who is in his fourth year on the job, said he and his wife are struggling to raise their 3-year-old child on his income and her earnings as a part-time receptionist. “My paycheck is $800 every two weeks,” he said. “I’m living check by check.”

Firefighter Paul Medordi said when he and his brother, a Police Officer, sought to move out of their parents’ house this year, after four years in their respective jobs, they found themselves priced out of Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Bay Ridge.

Grass Greener Elsewhere

The brothers are now sharing a condominium in Staten Island that neither could afford on his own, the firefighter said.

“I own a 10-year-old car, but I have a friend who works on Wall Street,” said Mr. Medordi. “You see the lifestyles of your friends and you think. We’re not looking to make $200,000 a year or anything, we just want to be better paid.”

After estimating that 20 percent of his income came from overtime, Firefighter Medordi said he would reject any offer to work extra tours for an increase in base pay. “They want you to work more hours, but they’re not really paying you more,” he said.

A Police Officer with nine years on the job who gave his name simply as Dave attended the rally with his wife and their two-year-old daughter.

Dave said that even with his wife’s income as a part-time bookkeeper, the couple is apprehensive about keeping up with mortgage and car payments. He said he’s looking into working elsewhere, including at the Port Authority Police Department. “Their starting point is about what we make at base pay,” he pointed out.

The PBA, saying it was responding to similar sentiments among its members, last week began posting openings for higher-paying jobs at other police departments on its Web site.