The Chief
July 23, 2004

Point Finger at Mayor

Garden Protesters: We Can’t Keep Up

By Mark Daly

Strictly speaking, Police Officer Peter Hatzoglou is a bit overqualified to be driving a patrol car. He joined the Police Department with a four-year college degree, or twice the number of required credits, and will soon have a master’s degree in criminal justice from Long Island University.

But 41/2 years into his NYPD career, he’s still climbing the salary ladder to an officer’s top pay of $54,048.

‘Still Living at Home’

As he stood on the sidewalk across from Madison Square Garden July 19, a protest sign dangling from a cord around his neck, the Queens officer said he’d been struck by the emerging contrast between himself and his friends from his undergraduate years at the State University of New York at Albany.

“Three of my college room-mates are lawyers. They’re moving out, getting their own places, while I’m still living at home,” he said.

A dispiriting gap between their salaries and those of professional colleagues elsewhere is driving cops, firefighters and Teachers onto the sidewalk to protest, union officials said last week as they launched a round-the-clock “informational picket line” outside the Garden during preparations for next month’s Republican National Convention.

“At this point in time, this is the center of the world,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said, referring the build-up to the GOP’s nomination of President Bush during the Aug. 30 - Sept. 2 convention.

The protesters are seeking to embarrass Mayor Bloomberg into reaching agreements in their stalled contracts talks. Police officers and firefighters have been working under an expired contract for two years, and the Teachers’ contract expired last year.

“We don’t have enough Teachers. We’re losing cops and firefighters in record numbers” to retirement or other agencies, Mr. Lynch said, “We need the people of this city to help us to send a message to this Mayor.”

‘Waste of Time’

Mr. Bloomberg’s reaction to the launch of the protest was swift and sharp. “We don’t have any extra money,” he said during an appearance at a Bronx park the day the protests began. “Going and picketing – informational or any kind of picketing around Madison Square Garden – seems to me to just be wasting everybody’s time and drives everybody further apart.”

The Mayor went on to praise the “responsible leaders” of District Council 37, who negotiated a three-year agreement that provides a $1,000 bonus instead of a raise in its first year, followed by 5 percent in salary; increases.

Part of DC 37’s raise is funded by cutbacks in pay and benefits to newly hired workers, an approach the protesting unions have rejected.

Uniformed Firefighters’ Association President Stephen J. Cassidy said he’s approached Republicans across the country to explain his union’s fight. “They’re astounded,” he said. “They can’t understand why a Republican Mayor brought them to town and left them holding the bag.”

UFT: City’s Dancing

Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, accused the city of “tap dancing” around salary issues in its negotiations with her union. “They’re not doing anything at the bargaining table,” she charged.

Last Friday the dispute continued to simmer, as the police and fire unions unveiled mobile billboards slamming “Billionaire Bloomberg” and threatened to continue the picketing through the convention itself.

“You got to remember a lot of this is not driven by what the union members want,” Mr. Bloomberg opined on his Friday radio show. “It’s driven by the union leaders who are running for re-election.”

The Mayor predicted that workers would get tired of their leaders “yelling and screaming” and would vote in new officials who would negotiate a contract.

“It is very Republican that he would go so personal and not speak to the issues.” Ms. Weingarten told Newsday.

PBA: Thanks, Mike

“We would like to thank the Mayor for getting the union leadership re-elected three years from now,” quipped Al O’Leary, a spokesman for Mr. Lynch.

The cops and firefighters on the picket line said they are seeing the effects of Mr. Bloomberg’s hard line in their paychecks.

Officer Hatzoglou made $44,000 last year by working overtime shifts – many not by choice, he noted. He was scheduled for another overtime shift after his picketing was through “They bring you in on your days off to work parades and street festivals. You don’t get the days you want,” Mr. Hatzoglou explained.

On Friday morning, four days after the protest began, men wearing PBA and UFA t-shirts surrounded two sides of the Garden. Most stood at 20-foot intervals, obeying an agreement between the unions and the NYPD to avoid blocking foot traffic or deliveries to and from the building.

Frank Giordano, a Firefighter on the picket line, spent nearly six years as a police officer in Staten Island, before switching to the FDNY last December.

No House in Sight

City labor rules and the longstanding pay-parity arrangement between the NYPD and FDNY allowed Mr. Giordano to avoid a pay cut when he changed jobs, but he has already maxed out his allowable overtime in the FDNY and expects to make the same in salary as last year, about $52,000.

The switch hasn’t made it any easier for the 28-year-old single firefighter to afford a house in Staten Island, he said. “Even in the bad neighborhoods, they want $350,000,” he said with disgust. “I just reached top pay. I’ve got a lot of socking away to do.”

He’s seen senior firefighters in his firehouse, including one with five children, work two and three jobs as handymen or house builders to support their family.

“The way I look at it, there’s only three ways to make a living,” the Staten Islander said. “You can join the corporate world and get up at 5 in the morning to take the ferry. You can be in construction as a contractor and work hard every day, or you can risk your life every day.

“You shouldn’t have to work a combination of the three out of necessity,” he said.