The Chief
September 26, 2003

Cops in Nassau Get 21% Raise In 6-Year Deal

Arbitrators require Givebacks But Not Health Payments

By Richard Steier

Police Officers in Nassau County will receive pay raises of just over 21 percent under a six-year contract award issued by an arbitration panel Sept. 14, bringing maximum salary to $92,400 as of July 1, 2006.

The cash-strapped county, which has its spending monitored by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority because of a massive deficit that is partly the result of its generous police compensation, won a number of cost-saving contract changes from the arbitrators, including a retroactive one-year wage freeze and an additional freeze of six months that takes effect in 2005. But Nassau officials’ bid to have cops pay 50 percent of their health costs was flatly rejected.

Some Key Savings

County police officials did. However, gain greater flexibility both in scheduling officers and civilianizing positions. The county will achieve substantial savings by not having much of the pay raise apply to the early steps on the salary scale, and through changes in when night pay takes effect and the number of annual work hours used to calculate benefits ranging from overtime to holiday pay.

But Nassau Police Benevolent Association members in addition to their wage gains will receive a boost in longevity differentials and a new education incentive bonus that starts at $600.

While the county will save significantly due to the panel’s elimination of generous provisions under which night differential pay took effect beginning at 11 a.m. and officers were paid for any travel time to and from their homes that was connected to some overtime work, those changes were not a total loss for Nassau PBA members. The arbitrators eliminated a 10-percent night differential that was paid between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., but the differential between 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. has been boosted to 12 percent, same as for hours worked later at night. For the first time, cops will be paid the night differential for the hour between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., also at 12 percent.

Tough for PBA to Top

Nassau wage settlements have always held wide interest among officers in the NYPD, many of whom live on Long Island, even as they have been a source of discomfort for presidents of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. The last Nassau PBA arbitration award, in 1997, granted 24-percent wage increases over five years along with a variety of fringe-benefit gains during the same week that a city PBA arbitration panel issued a five-year award that provided just 13 percent in raises and began with a two-year pay freeze. The disparity produced such a strong outcry among the PBA’s rank and file that then-President Lou Matarazzo retired rather than seek another term.

City Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley last week reacted with what has been his standard presentation in a series of arbitrations with the PBA where comparability to Nassau has been raised. Unlike the city, he said, Nassau does not have a Fire Department or bargain with other employee groups that because of longstanding salary relationships with cops could be expected to receive similar wage hikes if they took their cases to arbitration, and it doesn’t have to fund a school system.

PBA Not Talking

PBA officials did not return calls seeking comment on the Nassau PBA deal.

Among the key provisions of the deal, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2001 and expires Dec. 31, 2006 are:

  • A wage freeze for all of 2001;

  • Pay hikes of 3.9-pecent retroactive to Jan. 1, 2002 and Jan. 1, 2003, with another 3.9-percent raise payable next Jan.1;

  • A six-month freeze beginning Jan. 1, 2005;

  • Raises of 3.9-percent effective July 1, 2005 and July 1, 2006;
  • An improved longevity pay scale beginning next January worth anywhere from $400 to $1,700 a year more depending on years of service;

  • A change in the number of hours used to calculate holiday pay, overtime and shift differentials from the old standard of 1,856 to 1,985 effective Jan. 1, 2004, reducing Nassau County’s costs by roughly 7 percent in those areas;

  • An education incentive retroactive to Jan. 1, 2003 of $600 for any officer who competes 124 college credits, rising to $695 by Jan. 1, 2006, with the incentive money given to incumbent officers based on their on-the-job experience even if they lack those credits;

  • Four additional 12-hour tours worked annually by each officer at regular pay, one in each quarter of the year;

  • The loss of one paid holiday – Flag Day – for incumbent officers, and of two additional holidays for officers hired after Sept. 15, 2003 during their first two years on the job;

  • A change in termination pay calculations based on the new standard of 1,985 hours, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2005;

  • The county won the power to civilianize up to 50 jobs per year in each of the next two years that are currently being performed by uniformed officers;

  • The Nassau P.D. can reduce minimum staffing beginning Jan. 1 by up to 417 sector car assignments per year in each of its eight precincts and its highway unit;

  • Starting pay for rookie cops during their first six months in the Police Academy will be upgraded from $21,000 to $23,000, but the raises under the contract will not be applied to that salary, and the rates for cops hired after Sept. 15, 2003 will remain frozen at $30,000 during their second six months out of the academy, and $43,244 for the succeeding six months on the job;

New Starting Rate

  • Effective Dec. 31, 2006, the last day of the contract, the new starting rate for those entering the Police Academy will be $34,000, and a new step progression will be implemented under which upon marking a year’s service, those new hires would jump to $65,643.

    Changing the hourly benchmark to holiday pay, overtime and shift differentials, as well as for calculating termination pay, provides sizable savings in those areas by effectively reducing the hourly wage of Nassau cops. For example, a cop earning $60,000 in base pay would have his hourly wage for calculating those differentials set at $32.33 if the old standard of 1,856 hours was in effect. Raising the standard to 1,985 hours puts the hourly wage at $30.23 and reduces the differentials to which that cop is entitled.

    The basic pay hikes plus compensation to officers for the additional 48 hours they will work as part of their regular schedules will bring maximum from $73,859 up to $92,499 by the end of the contract. (The additional tours cannot be scheduled on holidays or officers’ vacation days, and they must receive at least 14 days’ notice.)

Gap Likely to Widen

Despite Nassau County’s troubled finances, the deal will almost certainly widen the major pay gap between cops there and their New York City counterparts. The city PBA’s last contract – also awarded via arbitration – expired last July 31, with a maximum salary of $54,048. Under the Nassau award, as of Jan. 1, 2003, officers at maximum are making $79,733. Nassau County cops reach maximum salary after seven years on the job, compared to five years for those in the NYPD.

After years in which Republican control of the County Executive’s seat and the Nassau Legislature had created a cozy bargaining climate for the Nassau PBA, the county’s financial problems produced a Democratic takeover and a bid by County Executive Thomas Suossi to put an end to the days of largesse.

Nassau officials took a tougher line – implicitly and explicitly – in the arbitration process this time around. Nonetheless, the three neutral members of the arbitration panel – chairman John M. Donoghue, veteran Long Island police arbitrator Martin F. Scheinmen, and Howard C. Edelman – crafted a deal that, while it offered something to both sides, came closer to the Nassau PBA’s aspirations than the county’s

Where the Nassau PBA argued for 4.5-percent raises in all six years of the contract Nassau County sought a three-year wage freeze at this outset. While it acknowledged the validity of the union’s contention that this would place Nassau cops behind their counterparts in Suffolk when it came to salary, it noted that its bonds were rated lower than the neighboring county’s as well, and insisted that better standards for comparison were the pay levels for NYPD cops and State Troopers.

Citing the escalating cost of health benefits, Nassau asked that cops pay 50 percent of those costs in the future.

Nassau County also sought to limit night shift differential pay to the hours between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and reduce it to 10 percent for that span, recalculate differentials based on the standard prior to the last arbitration award in 1997 of 2,088 hours worked, and eliminate three paid holidays.

Well Not Totally Dry

In rendering its decision, the arbitration panel – which also included the county’s chief negotiator, Anthony Cancellieri, and Nassau PBA President Gary DelaRaba – noted the fact that Nassau’s financial difficulties had forced a property tax increase of nearly 20 percent last year and that its bond rating was the lowest in the state.

While those realities argued against meeting the union’s demands, it said, a three-year wage freeze “is unwarranted, as well.” The panel noted that historically compensation in Nassau had been linked to that in Suffolk, rather than using New York City, and that private-sector wage increases in both suburban counties had averaged 4.5 percent in 2001 and 2002 before falling somewhat so far this year. Freezing wages for 18 months of the six-year deal while granting five 3-percent increases over its course, the arbitrators said, met the county’s need for savings while also giving cops sufficient protection against inflation. Because the raises are compounded, their value swells from the basic 19.5 percent to about 21.1 percent.

The panel granted an increase in longevity payments on the basis that whatever ground Nassau cops lost to those in Suffolk on wages should not be compounded by slippage in other areas. Under the old contract, officers with six to nine years on the job got an annual $1,400 longevity payment, those with 10 to 14 years got $2,500, 15-year veterans got $3,700, and more senior officers got an additional $350 for each extra year of service. The new contract sets longevity at $300 per year for each year of service starting with the sixth, effective next Jan. 1.

An officer with eight years on the job would thus be $1,000 better off next year, but by the final year of the contract, when he would be receiving $3,000 rather than the old standard of $2,500, would be gaining just $500 for that year.

In reining in the night differential standard, the panel implicitly criticized past county officials and the arbitrators who provided political cover for their generosity. Alluding to the peculiarity of having something called “night differential” take effect at 11 a.m., the panel stated, “This time period does not comport with the generally accepted belief that employees who work late hours which disrupt their family lives should be compensated for this inconvenience.”

Waiving Flag Day

The arbitrators also eliminated Flag Day as one of the Nassau cops’ 13 paid holidays, noting, “Generally neither private-sector nor public-sector employees receive Flag Day off.”

As to the past practice of granting cops compensation for time traveling to and from work whenever they were called in on an overtime shift that didn’t immediately follow or precede their regular tour, the arbitrators stated that paying time-and-a-half for the overtime tour was sufficient recognition of the inconvenience involved and eliminated the travel time pay beginning next January.

While the change in hours to be used in calculating differentials will take effect Jan. 1, the arbitrators delayed imposing that switch for termination pay until Jan. 1, 2005. They explained that leaving the force usually involved long-range planning, and so it was unfair to have the benefit negatively adjusted in a way that would hurt cops who had previously begun planning their departures for sometime next year.