The Chief
January 28, 2005

Arbitrator: PBA Insistent About 2-Year Contract

Lynch Reportedly Seeking a 40% Wage Hike

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has asked the contract panel hearing its wage arbitration case to confine its award to the two-year maximum that it is permitted unless both sides consent to an extension, the panel’s chairman said last week.

“The city said they’re willing to consider beyond two [years] and the union said no, which is the same position they took last time,” Eric Schmertz, the veteran arbitrator heading the panel, said in a Jan. 19 phone interview.

PBA Tight-Lipped

A spokesman for the PBA President Patrick J. Lynch declined comment when asked about the union’s reasoning and would not confirm that he had insisted on a two-year award.

The Bloomberg administration’s contracts this bargaining round with several unions representing civilian employees – most notably District Council 37 – have all been for three years, explaining its willingness to discuss a longer award.

The PBA’s last contract arbitration, which was decided in 2002 by a different panel appointed under the aegis of the state Public Employment Relations Board, resulted in a two-year award at a time when other city unions had negotiated deals of at least 27 months’ duration, with many of the uniformed unions agreeing to 30-month pacts. The arbitrators granted the PBA the same wage terms – two 5-percent wage increases – as had been negotiated by the Uniformed Forces Coalition, but the shorter length of its deal gave those hikes a greater potential long-term value to the union’s members.

Expired Already?

One veteran negotiator from another union pointed out that by the time the panel makes its ruling – which will be by late March at the earliest – a two-year contract to replace the one that ended July 31, 2002 would already be nearly eight months past its expiration date. He contended there was therefore some logic for the union and the city to ask the panel to consider extending the deal for as much as three additional years if mutually agreeable terms were presented.

Under PERB’s rules, arbitrators can unilaterally impose a settlement for a two-year period; the terms for a longer deal must be consented to by both sides.

Mr. Schmertz said that it was possible that there would be further discussions on possible terms with the city and the PBA even as the parties prepare their final written briefs – which are due by Feb. 18 – and then respond to each other’s position by March 5.

He declined to comment the specifics of the verbal presentations made by the two sides and their witnesses over the past two months.

Newsday reported that the PBA had sought annual raises of 20 percent, arguing that this was what was needed to bring members’ salaries closer to the wages paid to cops employed by the Port Authority and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Mayor Bloomberg has insisted that unless the PBA agrees to changes in working conditions that would yield enough savings to fund bigger raises, the city cannot afford to pay cops more than what it has given civilian unions: a $1,000 first-year bonus rather than a pay hike, a 3-percent raise in the second year of a contract, and a 2-percent increase in the third year that had half of its cost covered by give-backs affecting future hires.

A Familiar Route

This is the fourth time in the last five rounds of bargaining that the PBA has gone to arbitration rather than reaching a deal at the negotiating table. The first two instances, when the arbitration was governed by the city Board of Collective Bargaining, resulted in the union being forced to accept awards basically consistent with previously established municipal contract patterns.

The last arbitration, which was the first one conducted under PERB’s rules – the result of legislation enacted by Governor Pataki despite the protests of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani – produced a bit of a breakthrough but still fell well short of the union’s goal of narrowing the pay gap that exists with neighboring police forces.