The Chief
June 30, 2006

Police, Fire Unions Get Key Bill Okays

Need Pataki's Approval

By REUVEN BLAU

With the legislative session in Albany wrapping up last week, city police and fire unions furiously lobbied the State Legislature to amend their terminal leave benefit to include a monetary payment option, expand the Heart Bill to incorporate officers who have suffered strokes, and amend the Taylor Law.

JAMES SLEVIN: Benefit never cashed in.    
JAMES SLEVIN: Benefit never cashed in.  

All those bills passed both the Assembly and the Senate last week and will be sent to Governor Pataki before the end of the year. Mr. Pataki has not indicated his position on the various measures.

Mayor Opposes All

The Bloomberg administration, however, has opposed the bills, arguing that they will unnecessarily add to the city's already burgeoning pension and labor costs.

"Whenever we pass a law, we've got to sit back and think: how much is it going to cost?" Mayor Bloomberg said during his weekly WABC radio show on June 23. "And given there's only so many dollars that we are willing to send to the government through taxes, what other things that we might want to do can we not do?"

The terminal leave bill appears to be the main piece of legislation that the unions representing cops and firefighters were lobbying for last week. The measure, which initially received a City Council home-rule message, has been an issue the unions have been trying to address via collective bargaining and through legislation for years.

     MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Opposes penalty raises
  MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Opposes penalty raises

Under the current terminal leave benefit, officers who work for 20 years are entitled to an average of two months of the earned time benefit, which essentially enables them to leave work for that period before retiring while still being paid. "Terminal" refers to the end of their careers.

But few cops and firefighters have actually been taking that time off before they retire because they want to work as much overtime as possible to increase their pensions, which are equal to 50 percent of their earnings over their final year on the job.

'A Windfall to City'

"I think we are finally getting our point across to the Legislature that this city is getting a windfall based on the fact that half our members turned down their terminal leave time," said James Slevin, the Uniformed Firefighters' Association vice president and legislative chairman.

The city's law-enforcement unions backed a bill that will allow the officers to take a monetary payment in lieu of terminal leave time off.

Anthony Garvey, the president of the Lieutenants' Benevolent Association, argued that the legislation will provide an incentive for veteran officers to remain on the job. "It could actually be used as a retention device," he remarked. "If you stay on the job longer, you will accumulate greater terminal leave. It's a good investment at a reasonable price to pay for experience."

Cost Disputed

But Mr. Slevin and some other labor leaders said they believed the measure would eventually save the city money because the payout will encourage more veteran firefighters to retire. Those firefighters, Mr. Slevin noted, will retire at top pay and be replaced by firefighters who are paid far less money. "It could actually generate savings for the city," he contended.

The city, however, maintains that it will cost millions of dollars next year alone.

As for the Taylor Law, the city's uniformed and civilian unions backed legislation that automatically awards a 1-percent raise to public employees if a municipality is proven to have purposely stalled contract talks or bargained in bad faith. The measure, which passed both houses, also grants the workers a 0.5-percent increase every three months if the government continues to stall.

Mr. Bloomberg contended those changes could "bankrupt" the city. "I don't think there's any question about that, that the City would have no more negotiating power," he asserted during his radio show. "This is an intolerable, unconscionable piece of legislation. And hopefully Pataki will once again be the savior of the public."

Bill to Cover Strokes

The police and firefighter unions are also supporting a measure that will expand the Heart Bill to include officers who suffer strokes. The current bill presumes that any cop or firefighter who develops a heart condition incurred that ailment due to their stressful job duties, unless proven otherwise. "Because of their work effort, and involvement in serious and traumatic incidents on a regular basis, it is undeniable that police officers and firefighters regularly face a level of stress and hypertension that is far beyond the average person in our society," a memo attached to the bill stated. "We should now further adjust this presumption to properly include the serious and related conditions of hypertension and stroke."

John F. Driscoll: Death penalty no help    
JOHN F. DRISCOLL: Death penalty no help.  

According to the measure's fiscal note, the legislation will cost the city approximately $375,000 in fiscal year 2006-07 and would increase to $750,000 by FY 2011-12.

"It doesn't have a tremendous fiscal impact," Mr. Slevin contended. "The medical evidence is there and it's the right thing to do for firefighters and their families."

State Sen. Martin J. Golden, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, acknowledged that it faces an uphill battle. "I think it's a coup that we got it for Police and Fire in the first place," said the former cop. "People argue, 'How do you prove it's job related?'''

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the other police unions last week also backed a measure to re-enact the death penalty for criminals who kill lawenforcement officers. But that bill, which was passed in the Senate last week, never came to a vote in the Assembly.

Mr. Golden, however, said he would continue to support death penalty legislation. "I think you have to take people who are evil off the street," he remarked, noting that the state hasn't executed a convicted murder since 1962.

Captains: No Deterrent

But John Driscoll, the president of the Captains' Endowment Association, argued that reinstating the death penalty will not deter criminals. "When a person is killing a cop, I don't think legislation is going to stop it," he said, adding that it costs the state millions to pay for attorneys to defend inmates on death row.

"It is a broken system," he contended. "It's just such a long and expensive process."

Mr. Golden claimed that there was a direct correlation between the recent increase in homicides throughout the state and the Court of Appeals June 2004 ruling that the death penalty in New York is unconstitutional. Regarding the Assembly's position on the issue and several other law-enforcement friendly bills, he charged, "There isn't a criminal they don't like."

Sisa Moyo, an Assembly spokeswoman, responded, "Desperate people like Senator Golden say desperate things to get attention." She pointed out that in January the Assembly passed comprehensive legislation increasing penalties for sex offenders.