The Chief
July 8, 2005

Editorial

PBA Deal a Tricky Read

While the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association arbitration award is a major gain for incumbent Police Officers, it is a more dangerous proposition for other city unions, and indisputably hurtful to cops hired in the future.

The uniformed unions and the United Federation of Teachers are undoubtedly thrilled that the award breaks right through the pattern that had been set by District Council 37. In his written opinion accompanying the award, arbitration panel chairman Eric Schmertz made clear that he gave greater weight to the fact that maximum salary for city cops were below – in some cases substantially – the top pay for officers in 12 of the next 20-largest cities in the nation than he did to past relationships between raises for DC 37 members and for cops.

Until now, there has rarely been a significant deviation in pay hikes for the two unions, whether through negotiations or in arbitration. Some Mayors, notably Ed Koch and, surprisingly, John Lindsay, regularly gave the PBA slightly more in annual raises than they gave DC 37, but neither they nor the arbitration panels that handled three of the past four PBA contracts departed as sharply from the DC 37 terms as this panel did.

Part of the reason the change occurred is Mr. Schmertz’s cognizance of the growing gap in compensation compared to police officers in other cities. Part of it also rests, however, on the fact that the DC 37 terms reached 15 months ago, as we noted at the time, were too cheap for the Bloomberg administration’s own good if it hoped to convince uniformed unions to work from that deal’s framework.

The raises granted to the PBA are more than a point greater that the average pay hikes for the same period that were granted to cops employed by Nassau County and the Port Authority, as well as the State Troopers under a contract negotiated with the Pataki administration six weeks ago. But the Trooper deal provides an “expanded duty pay” differential of more that $2,500 a year for anti-terrorism work and increases of 35 to 70 percent in longevity bonuses for veterans, neither of which is part of the PBA award, and the salaries for Port Authority and Nassau County cops will still be well beyond those of NYPD officers. Even with the 10-percent raises, top pay for city cops is $59,588; Nassau cops, under a 3.9-percent raise that took effect last Friday, now make $86,054 at maximum.

And to get that sizable hike, the PBA wound up signing off on givebacks that will pinch both its future members and at least a few of the other uniformed unions. The biggest impact will result from the sharp reduction in starting pay and an alteration of the salary scale for new hires that will cost them dearly during their first five years on the job.

The old starting pay of $36,878, which will go to the $40,658 for the rookie cops who are about to be inducted into the Police Academy, will be replaced for all future hires with a split rate (less for Academy training than for officers’ first six months on the street) that amounts to $28,900 – a reduction of more than 21 percent from the old entry pay. Those future hires will be making only $34,000 until they have completed 2 ½ years on the job. And so it is not just a case of the progression to maximum salary being stretched from 5 to 5 ½ years; they will receive much less in compensation – over $48,000 less – during their first six years on the job than next week’s recruits will.

PBA President Pat Lynch had expressed reluctance to “sell the unborn” in this fashion, and he previously told other uniformed union leaders that he would not willingly do so. The reason this aspect of the deal is of concern to many other uniformed union leaders is that Police Officers have higher attrition rate than other uniformed titles.

This means that the city could argue, in bargaining or in arbitration, that it will not save as much money from the salary stretch for other uniformed jobs because their lower turnover rate means fewer hirings. On that basis, the city figures to demand additional concessions to provide the same savings as it will obtain from the PBA deal.

A similar scenario transpired 17 years ago after the PBA under then-President Phil Caruso made the first “attrition-based” contract deal, one that richly rewarded veteran officers at the expense of future hires and tied many other uniformed union leaders up in knots, with several of them losing their next elections largely because of problems they had replicating the gains without making more-onerous givebacks.

Veteran PBA officers will understandably celebrate last week’s award, which will bring with it back pay from the two raises that will amount to $13,000 or more in many cases.

But whatever strain those raises place on the city’s budget in the immediate future will eventually be cancelled out by what the city saves on salaries for future cops. It is also likely that the Bloomberg administration will insist that the NYPD take fuller advantage of its right to reschedule officers’ tours – which was increases from 10 days to 15 each year under last week’s award – than it has until now as a way of reducing a massive overtime budget.

And so while the award accomplished the PBA’s goals of getting significant raises for incumbent officers and breaking the chains of pattern bargaining, it looms as a decidedly mixed blessing for other uniformed workers, as well as its own future members.