The Chief
October 17, 2003

For the Record

More than a few labor leaders last week said they believed the driving force behind uniformed union resistance to health benefits bargaining as part of the Municipal Labor Committee is resentment about how pattern bargaining has frustrated Police Officer and Firefighter contract hopes in the past.

One veteran labor leader who didn’t want to be identified said that rather than gripe about how their aspirations have become captive to contract deals negotiated by civilian unions, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch or Uniformed Firefighters’ Association leader Steve Cassidy should try to seize the initiative by making the first deal of a bargaining round.

There are two obstacles to succeeding in such an effort, however. One is that Police Officers, in particular, are hard to satisfy because their pay is so far behind that of their counterparts in Nassau, and so the PBA has to aim high in bargaining. Other unions don’t feel the same kind of pressure from their members, and so city negotiators are inclined to try to reach a deal that will satisfy them but simultaneously put a ceiling on what the more demanding union can get.

PBA President Pat Lynch is all too aware of this, given the success that Labor Relations Commissioner Jim Hanley has had in boxing in the union during three wage arbitrations spanning three different mayoral administrations, beginning with David Dinkins in 1991. Ironically, the PBA’s outside bargaining counsel, Bob Linn, used this strategy cleverly as chief negotiator for the Koch administration when the United Federation of Teachers filed for arbitration in 1985, quickly striking a deal to fence in that union with District Council 37, which until then had made little headway in pay talks.

That round of bargaining began with a uniformed union leader, then-UFA President Jimmy Boyle, attempting to carve out the first deal. The fate of Mr. Boyle’s effort illustrates the second obstacle Mr. Lynch or Mr. Cassidy would face: a penchant among uniformed union for violating the trade-union commandment against speaking ill of another labor leader’s contract.

Mr. Boyle negotiated an ambitious but unconventional deal that included major gains in annuity fund benefits and increased take-home pay but also required a stretching of the salary scale that would have forced future Firefighters to work five years instead of three to reach maximum salary.

Then-PBA President Phil Caruso, miffed that Mr. Boyle was trying to usurp his role as the pre-eminent uniformed union leader, orchestrated a campaign in which cops lobbied against the deal at firehouses, claiming the UFA had settled to cheaply. Mr. Boyle’s opponents on his own board chimed in that going to the new salary arrangement would be divisive.

UFA delegates voted down the deal. Three years later, Mr. Caruso negotiated a similar salary stretch under a deal that, while it seemed generous, in the long run saved the city billions of dollars through a conversion of the PBA’s Variable Supplements Fund to a defined benefit. The UFA was forced in arbitration to accept a lesser deal that included the salary stretchout along with the VSF trade-in.