The Chief
April 30, 2004

Won’t Sell ‘Unborn’

Police, Fire Unions: Deal’s Not For Us

By Mark Daly

Reacting to District Council 37’s tentative contract agreement last week, leaders of the largest police and fire unions sent a clear message to City Hall: include us out.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch and Uniformed Firefighters’ Association President Stephen J. Cassidy each said it would be impossible to structure an agreement for their uniformed work force on the DC 37 pattern.

No Cuts to ‘Unborn’

In an important victory for Mayor Bloomberg, DC 37’s agreement partly hews to the city’s insistence on self-funded raises. The union eked out a 2-percent raise in the contract’s third year largely by cutting the starting pay and time-and-leave benefits of future workers – an option that the police and fire union leaders immediately ruled out.

Mr. Lynch called such bargaining “counterproductive” and Mr. Cassidy pronounced it “wholly unacceptable.”

Both presidents noted that in the last round of bargaining, the city insisted that the PBA and UFA devote a portion of their contract’s value to boosting their salaries of new hires, who currently advance through annual salary step for a five-year period to reach full pay.

“They just asked me to do something for our new firefighters, and they’re going to come around this time and take something away? I don’t’ think so,” Mr. Cassidy said.

‘Can’t Recruit As Is’

“We can’t recruit police officers at the salary we offer,” Mr. Lynch said. “We have to increase that to attract them.”

Mr. Cassidy, who like Mr. Lynch has been campaigning for a much higher pay scale, was unequivocal in his rejection of the DC 37 agreement. “The total value of the package is unacceptable,” he said.

Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley has said the DC 37 contract sets the framework for his talks with other unions by making clear that the size of future raises will be driven by how much the unions are willing to give in return.

“Seasoned negotiators don’t talk absolute positions before they’ve settled, nor rule anything out,” he said in a rebuke of the uniformed union leaders. “Nor do they bargain in the press on a settlement they might achieve. I’ll do neither.”

Some city officials argue privately that police and fire contracts have lots of “extras” that could be taken away relatively painlessly. But Mr. Lynch doesn’t see it that way.

‘There’s Nothing Left’

Years of previous arbitration awards – and several negotiated agreements – have whittled away at his union’s contract, the PBA leader said. “There’s nothing left for givebacks.”

The PBA, which has already filed for arbitration in this bargaining round, may be the most vulnerable to the effects of the DC 37 deal. The city could use the agreement to persuade arbitrators to force concessions from the union.

Mr. Lynch believes he can resist the city’s demands by pointing to the obvious: the city’s general crime statistics continue to drop, despite Mr. Bloomberg’s decision to cut the Police Department’s personnel budget by attrition.

“We have done a fabulous job with 5,000 fewer police officers, so that answers the productivity question,” Mr. Lynch said.

Seeks Training Bonus

Likewise, Mr. Cassidy argued that the city’s firefighters have taken on new duties in response to heightened concerns about terrorism.

Special training for responding to chemical or biological attacks, once reserved for select units in the Special Operation Command, has been added to the training regimens of neighborhood ladder companies, Mr. Cassidy noted.

In addition, while fires are at historic lows in the city, fire units are responding to more calls than ever, Mr. Cassidy said, now that engine companies are handling 911 calls of heart attacks and other medical emergencies.

For the uniformed unions, one bright spot in the DC 37 deal was Mr. Bloomberg’s abandonment of his previous refusal to offer retroactive raises. In the end, the city agreed to a 3-percent raise for the second year of the DC 37 deal, which covers the period from last July through this June.

19-Month Delay

That change in the city’s bargaining stance may work to ease the pressure on Mr. Lynch, whose members haven’t seen a raise since September 2002, when an arbitration panel awarded cops a general wage increase that was backdated to August 2001. The union has been working under an expired contract since then – the award covered a two-year period that ended June 30, 2002.

The PBA, which has roughly 23,000 members, and the UFA which has about 8,500, normally take the lead in uniformed contract talks, based on their size and the historic pay parity between their professions.

In the last round, however, a coalition led by Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook negotiated a 2 ½-year agreement that set the template for the other uniformed unions, while the PBA went through arbitration. (The UFA, originally a coalition member later negotiated a revised deal based on the PBA’s award.

There’s no similar coalition this year, but Mr. Seabrook may still be in a position to set an early deal by leveraging his early endorsement of Mr. Bloomberg in the mayoral race three years ago and his close ties to Governor Pataki and the state Republican Party.

COBA Keeps Mum

Mr. Seabrook turned down a request to discuss the DC 37 agreement last week. “He does not have a comment on that. He does not want to speak to the media,” said his spokeswoman, Kim Dresdale.

Peter L. Gorman, the president of the Uniformed Fire Officers’ Association, was also reticent. “I’ll never comment on a contract that’s in the process of being ratified. I think the union needs a chance to explain the contract to its members,” he said.

Other leaders, however, shared the PBA’s and UFA’s negative view of DC 37’s contract.

“I don’t look at this as a good agreement,” said Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association.

A Deep Cut

In particular, Mr. Mullins objected to the sharp cut in starting salaries for jobs represented by DC 37, where the average salary for its 121,000 members is $29,000. Previously, starting pay for DC 37 was 7.16 percent below what incumbents receive; the new contract would also double the one-year duration of the reduced rate.

“That’s sad, because you have members in DC 37 who don’t make a lot of money to begin with,” Sergeant Mullins said. “People are barely making a living, in a lot of ways, to live in New York City.”

“I know the Mayor is looking for productivity and ‘do more with less.’ I say, ‘been there, done that,’” said Michael J. Palladino, the president-elect of the Detectives’ Endowment Association. “Selling out the unborn is not a direction that we want to go in at all. We know from past experience that it’s hurt us at the bargaining table.”

Thomas J. Scotto, the DEA’s longtime president, was hopeful that the uniformed unions would avoid past difficulties. “I would believe police and fire would have learned their lesson” from their contract talks in the late 1980’s, he said.

In that round, the PBA agreed to “stretch out” new officers’ salary ladder to the current five years, and dropping their initial vacation schedules to a maximum of 20 days, down from 27.

The changes posed a dilemma for the unions representing higher ranks, who couldn’t easily adjust their salary schedule to provide savings to the city.

“That created a ripple effect that was almost impossible to beat,” Mr. Scotto said. “Other unions couldn’t generate the same value’ and had to make concessions elsewhere. The DEA, for example, opted to extend its contract by several months.

One union president, Harry Nespoli of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, isn’t averse to funding raises through productivity. His union has been negotiating such agreements since 1980.

San Workers Bonuses

In contrast to catching criminals or fighting fires, the labor Sanitation Worker is easy to quantify. Today, Sanitation Workers are paid bonuses for working in smaller crews and for exceeding stated tonnage goals for collecting trash along their routes each day.

In the years since those agreements began, “the savings from this work force have been over $2 billion,” Mr. Nespoli said last week. “If there’s a savings for the city and my members get some of it, I’m willing to negotiate.”

Mr. Nespoli wouldn’t rule out making changes to the benefits of his future members, suggesting it may be worth it if he can gain new contract provisions to protect his members’ health.

In this round, the USA is interested in monitoring the pollution exposure of the workers on the street who haul garbage cans from the curb to the collection trucks. “Anything that’s going to make this job safer and put money in my members’ pockets, I’m willing to consider,” he said.