The Chief
August 6, 2004

PBA Threatens To Disrupt GOP Fest Over Pact

Mediator Says Stalled Wage Talks Need Arbitration

By Mark Daly

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s outrage over Mayor Bloomberg’s hardball negotiation tactics spilled into the streets July 28 as 200 police union delegates marched around City Hall to protest their stalled contract talks.

Stoked by chants of “Strike! Strike!” and “No contract, no convention,” a reference to this month’s Republican Party gathering in Manhattan, the crowd blocked the building’s east gate at the start of its route and briefly slipped into traffic on Broadway as marchers rounded City Hall Park.

Signs of Frustration

The unannounced protest was the latest show of force – and frustration – by the union as its long-running contract dispute heads toward arbitration.

“We’ve put the city on notice. You don’t know where we’ll be!” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch shouted to the crowd.

“No second jobs!” became another popular chant at the rally, as officers voiced their disgust at wage patterns that the union contends have driven cops to moonlight to pay their mortgages and other bills.

Fire union leaders joined the PBA on the sidewalk on solidarity against Mr. Bloomberg’s insistence that unions fund a portion of their future raises by making cuts to other benefits. The city’s contract proposals to all its unions this year also include a first-year signing bonus instead of a raise.

‘We’re Not Going Away’

Two days earlier, the unions had gathered outside Madison Square Garden to beat back on attempt by police commanders to move the metal barriers set up outside the building as a permanent protest pen during the preparations for the Republican National Convention Aug. 30-Sept.2.

“What we are doing here today is not a threat, it’s a promise. The UFA and PBA are not going away,” Uniformed Firefighters’ Association President Stephen J. Cassidy said outside City Hall Wednesday. “We’re not taking zeroes. We’re not taking zeroes ever again.”

Seven fruitless meetings between the PBA, the city and a state-appointed mediator, Alan R. Viani, have all but ensured that the police union’s contract will be defined through binding arbitration.

Mr. Viani has sent a report to the state Public Employment Relations Board stating that he “does not believe a mediated settlement can be reached at this time,” a PERB official said last week. PERB’s director of conciliation, Richard A. Curreri, was out of town last week, but the next move is in his hands.

If Mr. Curreri concurs that the dispute is irresolvable through mediation, the PBA and the city will begin choosing a three-member panel that will hear their dispute and issue an award.

Both sides remain far apart on salary issues, with the PBA pushing to bring its pay in line with colleagues at Port Authority – one of the best-paid police forces in the region – and the city seeking cuts in starting pay, vacation time, annuity payments, holiday pay and even pensions.

PBA Wants 35% Hike

The PBA is seeking to raise officers’ maximum base pay of $54,048 to $72,982, a 35-percent increase in two years. Under its demand, officers would begin at $39,124 a year, about 13 percent more that the current starting wage of $34,514, and climb to top pay over a five-year period, as they do today.

The Union also wants to convert existing longevity payments and a uniform allowance to a percentage of salary, so they would automatically rise with each future raise.

In response, the city offered six different pay scenarios during mediation sessions. Last month the union took the unusual step of posting them on its Web site, branding each an “insulting proposal.”

The city has proposed a three-year contract that offers a $1,000 cash payment up front, plus compounded raises of between 7.12 percent and 9.18 percent, depending on what concessions the union is willing to make to receive a raise in the contract’s final year.

The givebacks proposed by the city include shortening officers’ shifts, or tours, by 20 minutes while keeping their annual total working hours the same. The change would require officers to make 10 additional appearances per year.

Police officers currently must be on the job 2,088 hours a year, the equivalent of working 40-hour weeks from January through December, plus an extra eight-hour day.

Would Set Trainee Rate

The city also wants to set a lower starting salary, or “academy rate,” for officers still in training at the Police Academy. The proposed salaries range from $31,100 down to $23,000 pro-rated for the six-month training period.

The city’s pension proposal would require future police officers and firefighters to work 25 years and reach age 50 in order to receive a standard pension. Both uniformed forces currently have a “20-and-out” plan with no age requirement.

Additionally, the new pension plan would require workers to contribute a flat 5 percent of their salary, instead of an amount ranging from 4.30 percent to 8.05 percent based on age. Certain benefits that today’s retirees enjoy – a cost-of-living adjustment, a Variable Supplements Fund – would no longer be provided.

In its protests downtown and outside Madison Square Garden, the PBA has loudly proclaimed its rejection of the principle laid out by Mayor Bloomberg that unions should make concessions to fund their raises.

‘Won’t Pay City to Work’

“They want us to come to work and write them a check,” scoffed Mr. Lynch. He said the shorter workday had been tried and abandoned during the city’s fiscal crisis. “They’re suggesting a chart they threw out in 1978,” he said.

Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley said the schedule had been imposed by an arbitrator. “We didn’t walk away from it,” he said, explaining that it remained in place until both sides agreed to switch to the 8-hour, 35-minute tours in place today.

The academy rate, he said, reflects the standard practice in other law-enforcement agencies of offering lower pay to training academy students.

“We have been willing to negotiate the police contract from day one, Mr. Hanley added. “However, we prefer to do it at the bargaining table, not on the Internet.” The union’s posting of the city’s proposals, he said, “places a chilling effect” on negotiations.

Won’t Sway Mayor

Given its chances for success, the union’s campaign is more for internal consumption that an all-out lobbying effort, according to a veteran political consultant.

“The probability is the Mayor will not fold,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist who has assisted police unions in Detroit and Los Angeles with labor campaigns. “There has not been a mayor in recent memory” who has suffered defeat at the polls “because he has a conflict with public sector unions.”

Mr. Sheinkopf, himself a former cop, worked for Boston’s police union in its public spat with Mayor Thomas M. Menino during the run-up to last week’s Democratic National Convention. After pushing for a 17-percent raise over a four-year period to match an earlier contract with the city’s firefighters, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association received 14.5 percent in a hastily arranged binding arbitration session meant to dissipate tensions before the convention began.

Proved Cuts Hurt

The consultant judged the union’s campaign a success, and said it gained traction because the union was able to argue that there had been a dangerous reduction in the size of the city’s 2,000-member uniformed force. The Boston department shrank by 131 officers, or 6.3 percent, in the last two years.

Mr. Lynch has tried the same message in New York, pointing to the loss of 4,000 officers in the two years since Mr. Bloomberg took office.

Last week, as he joined members at the barricades surrounding their sidewalk protest site outside Madison Square Garden, the PBA president pointed to recent crimes that have served as prime tabloid fodder, including the attacks by intruders on priests in two different parishes in as many days.

“The perps are getting bold again,” he said. “And we’ve gone from being omnipresent to responding to 911 calls. We’re not going to be able to effectively do our job if we have fewer people.

‘We Can’t Recruit’

At least 1,000 officers have quit the department in mid-career to seek better paying jobs elsewhere, Mr. Lynch charged. “Other departments do not have a recruiting problem. The NYPD does,” he said.

In New York, however, “it’s not penetrating,” said Mr. Sheinkopf, because overall crime statistics remain at historic lows. “The fact is, there’s no crisis. If there were a crime crisis, the general public would be-more interested.”

The joint police-firefighter-Teacher picket line outside Madison Square Garden will have little impact, the consultant estimated, because “Republicans care less about union picket lines than Democrats do.”

“I’m not being critical of these guys. They have to show the membership that they’re fighting,” Mr. Sheinkopf added. “The fight is as important, in many ways, as the outcome.

Not Expecting the Moon

Cops, firefighters and other public safety workers “generally expect they’re not going to get what they want,” he said, so they may be forgiving, or at least cynical, when an eventual deal fails to meet expectations.

That attitude doesn’t let a union leader off the hook, however, Mr. Sheinkopf said a leader’s reputation can suffer “if they’re not fighting, if they’re not taking it on the chin.