The Chief
June 3, 2005

Razzle Dazzle

PBA: Tail Those Troopers

By Richard Steier

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch didn’t have all the details of the new State Trooper contract with regard to how much of the 12.5 percent in raises, the major jump in longevity bonuses and the new $2,575 in “expanded duty pay” would be offset by a temporary freeze in starting salary and greater flexibility by management to reschedule Troopers’ tours.

What he did know, discussing the contract during a May 26 phone interview, was that it looked significantly better than recent wage agreements involving civilian employee unions at both the city and state level. On that basis, there was reason for him to hope that the state arbitration panel that is expected to shortly issue a pay award for his own union might be swayed enough to step all over the pattern the Bloomberg administration insists was set by District Council 37’s contract deal 14 months ago.

‘Found a Way to Pay Them’

“The state is in fiscal straits, but it still found a way to pay the Troopers,” Mr. Lynch remarked. “It should absolutely influence [the arbitrators]. They did not stick to the pattern for other state unions.”

City Labor Relations Commissioner Jim Hanley, not surprisingly, took the opposing view, saying, “There’s never been any linkage” between wage deals for Troopers and for the PBA.

But the arbitration panel chaired by Eric Schmertz and acting under the jurisdiction of the Public Employment Relations Board had to be aware of the significant deviations from other public-employee contracts under the Topper deal, and their potential applicability to the PBA.

The most obvious one was the $2,575 expanded duty pay differential – fully pensionable – that the deal granted to all Troopers beyond the first-year trainee level. This was not the first time such a bonus was invoked; that came under an award from another PERB panel back in February covering Investigators and Senior Investigators employed by the Division of State Police.

That award granted expanded duty pay worth $1,500 retroactive to April 1, 2003 and jumping to $2,500 as of April 1, 2004, describing the added duties as “those related to counter-terrorism and other post-September 11th initiatives, computer crimes, and law-enforcement activities including gambling regulation.”

As Mr. Lynch noted, the NYPD more than any other local law-enforcement agency has increased its officers’ duties in connection with anti-terrorism work.

The 3-percent first-year increase under the Trooper deal was also a significant change from the prevailing pattern for public employees. Beginning with the contract for Transport Workers’ Union Local 100 reached at the end of 2002, city and state negotiators had assiduously avoided granting actual raises in the first year of contracts, insisting instead that the unions accept non-pensionable bonuses of from $800 to $1,000 that carried a cash cost but no long-term liability.

The assumption had been that this was an effort to hold down pension costs, particularly for city cops and firefighters, whose large overtime accumulations in the year following Sept. 11 would have heavy; implications for their retirement allowances if their unions won pay hikes that were retroactive to the middle of 2002.

No Uniformed Pattern Here Yet

Governor Pataki’s willingness to make this deal with Troopers, even though it is retroactive only to April 1, 2003, drives a hole through that theory if the PBA arbitrators choose to walk through it. Mr. Hanley is correct that PBA hikes have rarely if ever been linked to what Troopers got, but the current arbitration, unlike the last two in which the union was involved, is proceeding without any other city police or fire union under contract.

And so there is no assurance that the arbitrators will believe that the DC 37 pattern that has been adopted by several other civilian unions has relevance for the PBA. The fact that another union representing police personnel has gotten a first-year wage hike could loom larger than all the city and state contracts in which a cash bonus was provided as a cheaper alternative.

Lieutenants’ Benevolent Association President Tony Garvey, asked whether the Trooper deal improved the PBA’s chances of winning a first-year raise, replied, “Like chicken soup, it didn’t hurt it. But the biggest gain appears to be in the area of longevity.”

He had a point. Until now, employees with more than five years as Troopers were entitled to a longevity bonus equal to $295 each year of service. This meant that a 10-year Trooper got $2,950 and a 20-year veteran received $5,900.

The new contract dramatically boosts the annual increments and offers extra money for more senior personnel, with six- to 10-year veterans getting payments equal to $400 per year of service and 20-year Troopers getting $500 per year. For a 10-year Trooper, it would be a jump of roughly 35 percent to $4,000; for one with 20 years, the bonus of $10,000 would be close to 70-percent greater than in the past.

How Do They Do It?

Since the state is in worse fiscal shape than the city, the obvious question is how it can afford this generosity. The answer may be that the state believes it will derive major savings from a contract clause under which the Division of State Police can reschedule Troopers on just 48 hours’ notice, rather than the old standard of a week. This would allow the State Police to save on the overtime costs it incurs any time it asks Troopers to work extra duty with less notice than is required under the contract.

There are more than a couple of skeptics in the labor relations community who question whether the overtime savings and starting pay freeze will come close to making up for the added longevity and expanded duty costs. One of them noted, however, that the state has long had the ability to perform fiscal figure-eights and triple loops without worrying about the kind of scrutiny the city routinely undergoes from bond-rating agencies and newspaper editorial writers.

The state’s willingness to risk those entities turning their harsh lights on the Trooper deal may be the best evidence yet the Mr. Pataki has no plans to seek a fourth term. But he also has the luxury of signing off on the agreement without sweating about its impact on other state uniformed workers, most of whom have already come to the same basic terms as were agreed to by the Civil Service Employees’ Association early last year.

Bloomberg’s Headache

In contrast, Mayor Bloomberg has plenty to worry about in that area, most notably as regards the historic parity relationship between city cops and firefighters. Correction officers lack the roles of those other groups in anti-terror preparations, but over the past quarter century they have gotten the same basic pay raises as those employees, and their unions were Mr. Bloomberg’s only labor supporters during his 2001 mayoral campaign.

All of which means that any impact the Trooper deal has on the PBA arbitration is likely to grow from a ripple to a tidal wave in the municipal bargaining waters.

Mr. Lynch was not ready to embrace all aspects of the Trooper terms, noting that the city’s difficulty recruiting cops had led it to insist that more money in the last PBA arbitration be devoted to boosting starting pay. That made it clear, he said, that it was impractical to freeze starting salary – as the Trooper deal does for the first three years of the agreement – to offset some of the contract’s costs.

He was also realistic enough to have learned from his last contract arbitration, when the PBA made a compelling but largely unsuccessful case for significant raises beyond the citywide pattern by pointing out how much less its members earned than cops in Newark. Arbitrators are more comfortable making incremental adjustments than imposing radical boosts in compensation against management’s wishes.

Tempered Optimism

“Our case was great last time,” the PBA leader said. “It was even better this time.” Given his druthers, though, he’d be happier with a chance to control his own destiny rather that relying on the arbitrators, saying pointedly, “The state recognized that the best way to get a contract is at the bargaining table.”

One veteran negotiator with no stake in the PBA battle summed up the impact of the Trooper deal this way: “I don’t know that it has any relevance for the PBA. But who knows? It all rests in the mind of Eric Schmertz and what he thinks is important.