The Chief
September 6, 2002

Urge Supplemented Police, Fire Hikes

Mayor: Who’s Paying?

By Mark Daly

New proposals for raising the salaries of police officers and firefighters were floated like so many balloons last week, as city officials and union leaders alike sought to stave off a disappointing outcome to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s quest to gain a dramatically higher salary schedule through arbitration.

Amid sighs that the PBA’s wage award would fall far short of its hopes, 20 City Council Members called for the city to develop “dedicated revenue streams” – namely, special taxes – to raise the pay of cops and firefighters who might be tempted to retire or quit in search of higher income elsewhere.

SBA Surcharge Idea

A day later, Sergeants’ Benevolent Association President Edward D. Mullins said he would ask legislators in Albany to create a “Safe Streets, Anti-Terror” tax surcharge to fund an incremental pay raise for emergency workers.

As quickly as the proposals went airborne, Mayor Bloomberg shot them down. “Unfortunately there’s not any monies available above what the city’s already budgeted” for police and fire raises, he said.

The city’s overriding fiscal priority, he said, is the $5 billion deficit on the horizon and similar shortfalls projected for future years. “When you talk about a dedicated tax, you can dedicate it all you want, but the first $5 billion in debt reduction or increased revenues… has already been spent.

The three-member state mediation panel that is judging the PBA’s case for a 22-percent raise was expected to convene Sept. 3-4 to review previously submitted testimony from the union and the city.

The panel, which operates under the auspices of the Public Employment Relations Board, is debating whether to finalize an award that reportedly would give cops a 10-percent raise over two years, plus another 3.5-percent compensation boost for working 10 additional days. The PBA has threatened to sue to block any requirement to work extra days.

The City Council group, led by Queens cop-turned legislator Hiram Monserrate, released letters to Mayor Bloomberg and Labor Relations Commissioner James Hanley that called on each of them to drop their demand for extra tours. The group encouraged the Mayor to look elsewhere for funding.

“We are losing experienced, veteran police officers because they can’t make their ends meet,” said Mr. Monserrate, who called for “a progressive income tax dedicated specifically to the safety of the city.”

‘Not Like Other Workers’

Mr. Monserrate said that with the city threatened by international terrorism, it made sense to treat cops and firefighters differently from other uniformed forces. “I don’t think we can treat these two specific agencies the same as everyone else,” she said. “It’s unfair to compare the work of a Sanitation Worker with a Police Officer.”

SBA President Mullins said he would seek legislation modeled after the “Safe Streets, Safe City” personal income tax surcharge that was proposed by City Council Speaker Peter Vallone and endorsed by Mayor David Dinkins before being adopted by state legislators.

During the mid-1990’s, city unions accepted a five-year wage pattern that included a two-year wage freeze. “That’s what put us behind other jurisdictions,” he said.

Under Mr. Mullins’s plan, the police and firefighter unions would still negotiate raises, but the dedicated tax would make up the difference to bring salaries up to the average pay for emergency workers in other large cities, such as Chicago, Philadelphia or Los Angeles.

The NYPD’s Sergeants, along with the Firefighters represented by the Uniformed Firefighters’ Association, are among the city workers whose contract hopes hinge on the PBA’s success. The SBA rejected a 30-month, 10-percent contract pattern that was adopted by the other uniformed unions, and the UFA is seeking to alter the deal in light of the deaths of 343 FDNY members on Sept.11.

Detective’s Endowment Association President Thomas J. Scotto announced in July that he was spearheading a drive to collect enough voter signatures statewide to place a referendum on the ballot to help the PBA. The referendum would alter PERB’s arbitration rules in the PBA’s favor, or dedicate state funds toward police officer raises, he said at the time.

Timing Concern

Mr. Scotto could not be reached for comment last week. Mr. Mullins said he preferred his own proposal. “We may not make the guidelines for a state referendum,” he said. “There’s a time factor involved here.”

The SBA leader believes city residents are on the side of the unions in seeking better pay. He described how all the police unions are getting weekly phone calls from civilian supporters. “Nobody wants to raise the tax – but the support we’re getting is tremendous,” he said. “I think everyone is willing to share in a crisis.”

The PBA was receptive to the idea. PBA spokesman Al O’Leary said the police union’s president, Patrick J. Lynch, “believes the long-term solution is finding a dedicated funding stream for emergency services like police and fire. It is clear the citizens of New York are willing to pay when the money is going toward their protection.

Former Mayor Ed Koch, in a conversation at City Hall, weighted in with an idea he floated during his mayoralty. Mayor Bloomberg could achieve much of the savings he is seeking in extra tours, Mr. Koch said, by sending more cops out in single-officer patrol cars. The Police Department could avoid exposing officers to undue risks by dispatching two cars to the scene of any emergency, he explained.

“That is out of the question,” Mr. O’Leary replied. “It’s outrageously dangerous.”

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, speaking at the PBA’s annual delegates’ retreat in Kerhonkson, N.Y., pledged Aug. 29 to make every effort to divert some of the $21.1 billion pledged to the city by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide raises for emergency workers. His proposal, which he made earlier in August, has met with a chilly reception at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the White House, the Senator admitted.