The Chief
March 17, 2006

BCB Clears Mayor Of Meddling in PBA

Called for New Leaders

By REUVEN BLAU

The Board of Collective Bargaining has dismissed the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's complaint charging that Mayor Bloomberg violated city labor law by publicly suggesting in the summer of 2004 that cops would receive higher raises if they elected a new union leader.

Michael J. Palladino    
PATRICK J. LYNCH: 'BCB in Mayor's pocket.'  

"Because the challenged comments were not coercive, the Mayor did not 'deal directly' with members of the PBA and did not interfere with their protected rights under the statute," the BCB ruled 4 to 2 Feb. 28.

Claimed Interference

The PBA was asking the BCB to direct the city to "cease and desist" from using the media to address cops and to disparage union leadership with the intent of influencing future elections.

The New York City Collective Bargaining Law (NYCCBL) forbids "a public employer or its agents: to interfere with, restrain or coerce public employees in the exercise of their rights."

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch charged that the decision showed that the Board is biased against unions. "The Office of Collective Bargaining is supposed to be impartial, but the steady stream of anti-union rulings demonstrates that it is not," he contended in a statement. "In practice, OCB is an arm of the Mayor's Office of Labor Relations."

He added, "The taxpayers of the City of New York would be far better served by disbanding OCB - it no longer serves any legitimate purpose in labor relations in New York City."

Within Mayor's Rights

The 23-page majority decision ruled that the Mayor's comments made to reporters during the last round of bargaining did not constitute an improper practice. "An employer has a right to speak to its employees about, for example, the status of negotiations, the proposals made, its positions and opinions, and its reasons for those," the BCB concluded.

The PBA's complaint noted that Mr. Bloomberg said on his weekly WABC 770 radio program that cops "could have seen an 8-percent in crease in their salaries ... if their leaders had been willing to agree to the city's productivity enhancements."

The Mayor added, "The trouble is that the leaders of their unions are afraid to go back and even discuss it with them because these are unions that have a history of throwing out their leaders, you know, with monotonous regularity."

The BCB, however, ruled that the Mayor was not making a bargaining offer to officers and sidestepping union officials. "We do not interpret the language on its face or in context to demonstrate a promise to pay greater wages than were offered to the negotiating team if the members replaced their leaders," the decision said.

Playing No Favorites

    Michael Bloomberg
  MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Harsh but not coercive.

The Board also found that the Mayor's comments concerning union elections did not attempt "to favor one candidate over another or influence the electorate in a coercive manner."

His remarks, the majority decision said, reflected Mr. Bloomberg's frustration "and were an understandable response to the union's informational picketing, 'shadowing' him around the city, and creating a media blitz, which included attacks on him and his proposals."

BCB Chair Marlene A. Gold was among the four members of the BCB concurring that no improper practice occurred.

The city argued that the Mayor should receive immunity for all public statements concerning collective bargaining and that the BCB does not have the authority to grant the remedy the union sought. But the majority ruling found that it didn't need to address those issues because it concluded Mr. Bloomberg's remarks did not violate city labor laws.

'Blatant Intimidation'

The dissenting opinion, however, characterized the Mayor's statements as a "blatant attempt at intimidation." The remarks, it said, were an effort "to undermine a union's leadership by ad hominem attacks at a most critical juncture of bargaining."

The 11-page opinion added, "If, under these circumstances, a cognizable improper practice is not stated, then what on earth can be said to abridge NYCCBL?"

The dissenting BCB members were Charles G. Moerdler and Bruce H. Simon. They noted that the PBA's complaint "closely tracks" a similar grievance filed by Uniformed Firefighters' Association President Stephen J. Cassidy. That complaint was withdrawn as part of the contract settlement between the UFA and the city.

But Messrs. Moerdler and Simon noted that the Court of Appeals allows tribunals to rule on issues of public importance "which are likely to recur but which typically escape review because of the time it takes."

Called for New Leaders

They found that the Mayor "simultaneously targeted the membership of both unions," and noted that it took over 18 months for the PBA's complaint to be resolved. Their decision cited additional comments Mr. Bloomberg made during his radio show, which they concluded were "unquestionably, deliberately intimidating and coercive."

On July 23, 2004, the Mayor stated on the WABC show: "Let's change leadership of these unions and put in people who care about the union members and sit down and try to find the ways to generate productivity savings so that we can pay our municipal workers more."

The dissenting opinion noted, however, that the Mayor has a "right to speak his mind." They added, "This proceeding does not seek to preclude the Mayor from doing so. Instead, it seeks a declaration, recognized by statute, that an improper practice by the city has occurred."