The Chief
June 20, 2003

Eyes On Albany As Unions Push For Legislation

State Budget Woes, Silver Aide’s Arrest Mar Session’s End

By Mark Daly

Public-employee unions joined on the flurry of last minute lobbing in Albany this week as the State Legislature prepared to adjourn for the summer on June 19.

With city and state budgets wrung dry, several union officials and they’d set aside costly pension bills in favor of “no-cost” measures that aimed at delivering less-tangible benefits to their members.

PBA Gets Quota Bill

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association achieved a victory along these lines June 13 when the Assembly joined the State Senate in passing the union’s “anti-ticket quota” bill, which gives cops a way to fight back if they are disciplined for not writing enough summonses.

The arrest of a key aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also rocked the State Capitol in the season’s final days. J. Michael Boxley, the Assembly’s Chief Counsel, was charges June 11 with raping a 22 year-old Assembly worker in her Albany apartment after driving her home from a bar.

The woman, whose name police did not release, reported she was unconscious for much of the attack and might have been drugged. Mr. Boxley, 41 pleaded innocent to the charges and was freed on $25,000 bond.

Several lobbyists worried about the impact of Mr. Boxley’s arrest, describing him as the “go-to guy” for getting bills through Mr. Silver’s office and, by extension, the Assembly’s Democratic majority. As of last week Mr. Boxley had not been suspended from his $130,000-a year post but was described as “working from home.”

Mr. Silver issued a terse statement. “It is inappropriate for me to comment about this matter, other that to say that I have faith in the criminal justice system,” he said. Union officials said the state’s budget woes hurt bills that sought to enhance employee pension benefits. “Pension bills are more difficult this year than in any other year,” said Art Wilcox, the director of the state AFL-CIO’s public-employee division. As a result, he added, the AFL-CIO was coordinating support for tweaking the State’s Taylor Law, which governs public-employee labor disputes and outlaws strikes.

Arbitration Law Battle

However, Mr. Wilcox said the coalition’s efforts were tampered by an uncommonly tough fight to renew binding arbitration legislation for the state’s police officers and firefighters. Governor Pataki signed a renewal bill into law in May, but made clear he would prefer to see changes that would allow arbitrators to take into count an employer’s ability to pay when issuing awards to unions.

In the session’s final week, the AFL-CIO focused on a bill that would grant so-called “Weingarten rights” to public employees. The legislation, named after a U.S. Supreme Court case that benefited private-sector employees, would allow state and city workers to request that a union representative be present at any interview of mangers that could lead to disciplinary charges or their termination.

Finetune Bill

Mr. Pataki vetoed a previous version of the legislation last year. Mr. Wilcox said this year’s bill had been narrowed a bit to address his concerns.

The new bill also clarifies the rights of city employees union help if they are interviewed by the Department of Investigation, Mr. Wilcox said. State courts have concluded that some employees, such as firefighters, cannot expect such rights because DOI is not their direct employer.

Rounding out the unions’ Taylor Law lobbing agenda, Mr. Wilcox said the AFL-CIO was seeking measures that would prohibit the Governor from packing the Public Employment Relations Board with management-friendly appointees and make it easier for unions to get a swift ruling from PERB when workers accuse an employer of committing an improper practice.

Content of Quota Bill

The PBA’s anti-ticket quota bill was championed by State Senator Guy Velella and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who each described it as a way to put teeth into existing state laws that prohibit police departments from raising revenue by establishing employee goals for summonses and arrests. The new legislation allows police officers to file a grievance if they believe they have been punitively transferred for failing to meet a quota.

“The Legislature has shown they recognize there’s a problem with quotas,” said Robert Zink, the PBA’s recording secretary and legislative director. “The purpose of the legislation is to allow our highly trained Police Officers to make distinctions in the field.”

The bill’s passage came as PBA President Patrick J. Lynch led a “Don’t Blame the Cop” campaign that capitalized on widespread resentment at the doubling of many fines approved last year as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s austerity budget.

The Uniformed Firefighters’ Association is collaborating with the PBA on a bill that will allow their retired members to teach in city schools while drawing a pension from their uniformed service.

Under state laws aimed at preventing “double dipping” from the public trough, public employees must forego payment of a pension during the time they work at a subsequent government job. The unions’ bill would carve out an exception for their retired members by specifying that retirees who choose to teach won’t be able to accumulate credit for a Teachers’ pension.

The unions believe the bill has a good chance of passing, since Governor Pataki called for letting police officers teach in schools in his January 2001 state of the state address.

The UFA and PBA are also leading the fight for a law that would exempt emergency service personnel from paying fares or tolls to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority while they are on their way to and from work. A similar bill died last year after the Assembly failed to pass it.

The fire unions are championing a bill for emergency workers who responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It would help pay medical expenses of individuals who develop illnesses related to their exposure to toxic substances at the World Trade Center site. The bill, which is in its second version, has been narrowed to apply to public employees only’ said James Slevin, the UFA’s vice president.

A few unions were battling against the odds for pension improvements. Lobbyists for Transport Workers Union Local 100 were tracking the progress of a bill that would create a 20/50 pension for transit workers. The long sought bill would require members to contribute a greater percentage of their weekly paycheck in return for gaining the ability to retire at age 50 after 20 years of service.

Also, after persuading the Legislature last year to increase the penalties for riders who assault Conductors, Train Operators, the TWU was looking to add Station Agents, Station Cleaners and maintenance workers to the list.

‘Protect Station Agents’

“Station Agents are there to protect the riders, and their lives should be protected too,” said Darlyne Lawson, Local 100’s vice president for station employees.

On June 10, a City Council legislative committee recommended passage of a home rule message to speed Albany’s approval of a bill that would allow Correction Officers to receive pension credit for parental laws. The bill would provide a particular advantage to women in the correction force, since it would allow them to purchase credit for the time they spent at home after giving birth or while caring for a sick child.

Governor Pataki and the Legislature previously approved a similar bill that aimed to address pension inequities for female Police Officers at he Police Pension Fund.

Mayor Bloomberg’s legislative office has issued a memo of opposition to the new bill. City officials said they are concerned the bill could open the door to the granting of similar benefits for other members of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, which would drive up pension for the city.