The Chief
August 20, 2004

Bargaining As Street Theater

Cops, Firefighters Get in Mayor’s Face on Wages, Target Mayor

By Richard Steier

Uniformed Firefighters’ Association President Stephen J. Cassidy announced Aug. 10 that he would seek arbitration of his contract dispute with the city and warned Mayor Bloomberg that opposing the move would dangerously escalate tensions among his members.

Standing at the foot of City Hall, Mr. Cassidy was joined at the press conference by Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch, who when asked whether cops might strike during the republican National Convention responded, “We will not count anything out in our struggle going forward.

‘Frustration’s So High’

Mr. Cassidy noted that the convention was three weeks away, plenty of time for developments in the contract talks that might lighten the mood among the members of their unions. But absent some progress, he said, “The level of frustration among Firefighters and Police Officers is so high, I can’t account for what might happen” during the convention.

Mr. Lynch had made a similar comment the previous day in an interview with the New York Post, and a delegation of cops and firefighters had jeered the Mayor during a public appearance that evening.

While Mr. Bloomberg did not make himself available for comment following the UFA’s announcement, his Press Secretary, Ed Skyler, came out of City Hall to address reporters immediately after the press conference ended.

‘Won’t Intimidate Him’

“They’re not going to intimidate the Mayor into making a deal that’s bad for the city,” Mr. Skyler said. He said it was “despicable” of Mr. Lynch to make a veiled threat by saying he couldn’t be responsible for what some of his members might do, adding that such tactics by the two union leaders were “only going to blow up in their faces.”

The two unions, Mr. Skyler said, have a right to protest but not “to say they’re above the law.”

Mr. Lynch, standing a few yards to the east of Mr. Skyler, when apprised of his comments said his warning was intended as a realistic assessment of the mood among his members. “It’s irresponsible of the Mayor not to be negotiating realistically with us,” he said.

Talks with the PBA on a contract to replace the one that expired in mid-2002 have gone nowhere, even after veteran mediator Alan R. Viani was brought in three months ago to try to bridge the gap between the two sides.

Mr. Cassidy’s decision to file for a declaration of impasse in the UFA talks, which is likely to prompt the state Public Employment Relations Board to appoint a mediator as the first step toward a possible arbitration, was announced four days after negotiations broke down.

New Offers Same Old?

The UFA leader said that Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley had made several proposals during the Aug. 6 bargaining session, but they all had a common characteristic: what amounted to a 4.17 percent wage increase over a three-year period, consistent with the basic terms accepted in April by District Council 37.

Flanked by UFA members in yellow T-shirts bearing the message “Firefighters for Fair Pay” and cops with similar messages on blue shirts, Mr. Cassidy declared, “Mike Bloomberg says we’re not better than people who push paper. That’s a joke! It’s a disgrace!”

He continued, “We are separate and different from other city employees. What’s fair for some is not fair for us.”

‘Want What We Deserve’

Mr. Lynch echoed that theme, saying, “We’re asking for what is rightfully ours for the blood, sweat and tears that we put on the street every day.”

The Mayor has insisted that if cops and firefighters want raises exceeding those won by DC 37, their unions will have to cover the additional cost by agreeing to productivity measures that would fund them. The DC 37 deal has a $1,000 first-year bonus that does not become part of base salary, then a 3-percent raise followed by a third-year increase of 2 percent that is partly funded by givebacks affecting future hires.

“Mike Bloomberg thinks productivity is givebacks,” Mr. Cassidy declared. “We’re not going backward, and we’re not giving back anything.”

Asked what productivity he was willing to offer the city, he responded, “Productivity is when we’re willing to risk our lives if there’s a chemical or biological attack. We never had to do that before.”

He suggested that Mr. Bloomberg’s bargaining stance was inconsistent with his rhetoric about the value of cops and firefighters to the city, saying, “He can’t show up at the funerals and tell the widows their husbands were heroes and not pay us a fair wage when we’re alive.”

Mr. Skyler acknowledged that city cops and firefighters were probably underpaid, explaining, “I don’t think you could ever pay people enough to put their lives on the line.

“But,” he added, “We don’t print money in city government.”

Referring to several recent appearances the Mayor had made at which contingents of cops and firefighters had heckled him, Mr. Skyler said, “He’s not going to dole out big raises just to make his life easier. They could follow him around for the next five years. It’s not gonna make a difference.”

Making It Personal

At that point, cops and firefighters lingering after chanting, “Skyler got a raise! Skyler got a raise!” referring to the recent increase the Mayor granted to city managers and members of his top staff.

When Mr. Bloomberg arrived at the Wall St. restaurant Mangia a couple of hours latter for lunch with New York Stock Exchange head John Thain, he had a welcoming committee: a group of off-duty cops that swelled in number to close to 50 by the time he finished a sandwich, chips and diet soda.

Keith Whiteside, a Sergeants Benevolent Association delegate from the 75th Precinct in Brooklyn’s East New York section, said he believed the protests were affecting the Mayor.

“Sometimes he’s been speaking and it looks like it’s getting to him a little bit,” said Sergeant Whiteside, who’s in his 13th year at the NYPD.

He argued that hounding the Mayor was the most effective tool the unions had for getting him to take their demands seriously. “There’s no repercussions for him stalling and delaying the talks,” he said. “Our contract’s been up for two years, and the city’s collecting interest on the money they’ll be giving us.”

He was asked about the statements by Mr. Lynch and Mr. Cassidy that they weren’t sure what their members might do at the convention if progress hadn’t been made in contract talks.

“The members are frustrated,” Sergeant Whiteside replied. “You never know what might happen. But New York City police officers and firefighters will always act professionally. We’ll continue to do our job as best we can.”

A Taunting Goodbye

About 15 minutes later, with the protesters chanting, “Keep the praise! Give us a raise!”, the Mayor emerged from the restaurant, his face grim as he strode purposefully toward a waiting black Ford Excursion.

The chant segued into “Run away, Mikey, run away!” as the sport utility vehicle drove off.

During the City Hall press conference, Mr. Lynch had suggested that the unions were only beginning to bring their brand of street theater into the Mayor’s life.

“We will continue to wake the Mayor up in the morning and put him to bed at night,” he said.