The Chief
November 3, 2006

Mayor, PBA Trade Blame on Pay Stall

Deal Off 'til Summer?

By REUVEN BLAU

The feud between the Bloomberg administration and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association raged on last week, with the Mayor charging that the PBA was the only labor organization that had continually failed to negotiate new contracts with the city, a contention the union denied.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Opens fire on PBA.     
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Opens fire on PBA.  

"Every other union has had creative, intelligent, hardworking, honest, open leadership that's been able to come up with a contract with the city," Mayor Bloomberg asserted after an Oct. 24 press conference. "I have no idea why this union repeatedly has not been able to do that and has not even made any attempt to do that. They've just deliberately, from the beginning said, 'We are going to arbitration.'''

PBA: City Forced Us

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch has argued that the PBA has been forced to seek binding arbitration because city officials have failed to offer adequate raises for its members.

City negotiators have maintained that the wage model for uniformed employees was set last fall by the Uniformed Firefighters' Association's 50-month deal, which provided raises of 3 percent and 3.15 percent in its last 26 months. The earlier part of that deal replicated the two 5-percent raises the PBA won in arbitration in June 2005, covering a two-year period.

      Patrick Lynch James Hanley
  NEGOTIATING AT CROSS-PURPOSES: While Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch (top) has accused the Bloomberg administration of compelling the union to seek wage arbitration by offering inadequate pay hikes, Labor Relations Commissioner James F. Hanley (above) claims the union has shown no interest in reaching a deal at the bargaining table.

Mr. Lynch has called that offer "unacceptable," contending that it is lower than the rate of inflation and does not satisfactorily raise the maximum pay for veteran officers.

The unions representing NYPD Detectives and Lieutenants, however, have both agreed to extended four-year contracts, noting that there has been a 100-year-plus salary parity between cops and Firefighters. An arbitration panel, they have said, would likely maintain that tradition.

Old Wounds Reopened

The PBA and Mayor Bloomberg renewed their bickering over the last arbitration award, with each blaming the other for proposing and agreeing to drastically reduce the starting salary of new officers in the Police Academy to $25,100.

"I thought the last decision ... was not in the city's interest, but it was a decision forced on all of us by the PBA, who deliberately sold the unborn," Mr. Bloomberg told reporters. Mr. Lynch, however, called the Mayor a liar for blaming the PBA. "Once again Bloomberg thinks that if he repeats a lie often enough, people will believe it," he said in a statement. "Reduced starting salary for police officers was in the city's demands from Day One. They wanted it, testified for it and the arbitrator gave it to them and now they have to live with it."

Mayor: 'Their Choice'

But Mr. Bloomberg contended that it was the union's decision to reduce the starting pay for new hires. "That was their choice," he remarked. "The arbitrator gave them that option and that's the option they picked, and then they tried to blame others for it."

The department has struggled to recruit and retain officers under the slashed pay schedule, which Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has called a "disgrace."

In an effort to enhance the department's recruitment efforts, the city May 18 offered to raise the starting annual salary for new officers to $37,929, from $28,900, part of which would be financed by cutting vacation days and leave time for those cops.

The PBA, however, rejected those terms, partly because of the givebacks. The union has also argued that the maximum salary for cops needs to be increased substantially in order to help recruit and retain new officers.

"The real issue is that people thinking about becoming police officers look at the potential for earnings over the long run, and without competitive salaries at all levels - starting and critical top pay - no one is going to take this dangerous and difficult job," Mr. Lynch said last week.

'PBA Dragged Its Feet'

In June, the Bloomberg administration took the highly unusual step of petitioning the Public Employment Relations Board to declare an impasse in its contract negotiations with the PBA. "We filed because we'd like to get the salaries of our Police Officers adjusted and addressed," Labor Commissioner James F. Hanley said last week. "They were dragging their feet on this process; that's why we filed when we did."

The Bloomberg administration does not appear worried that the arbitration award could break the law-enforcement wage pattern set this round of bargaining. Mr. Hanley has agreed to allow practically all the city's law-enforcement unions to include re-opener clauses in their new contracts, which would force the city to renegotiate their agreements should the PBA award bust the mold.

Despite that confidence, Mr. Bloomberg has repeatedly said that the city prefers to negotiate contracts at the bargaining table. "Virtually every other union, with the exception of one other that I can think of, has been able to do that repeatedly," he said last week. "One union, the PBA, has never tried in recent times to negotiate. They've always thought that they have a better track with the [PERB]."

Costly and Lengthy

In four of the previous five rounds of bargaining, dating back to 1991, the PBA's contract has been submitted to arbitration because of stalled negotiations, with only a 1994 contract reached at the bargaining table. The arbitration process has been costly and has traditionally taken well over a year.

Mr. Lynch contended the previous week that the PBA was "forced" to seek binding arbitration to settle its contract. "In the last two binding arbitration cases, the PBA has been awarded pattern-breaking settlements for significantly more than what the city offered," he argued. "It is regrettable that the city refused to wake up to this reality and forces us to go through a lengthy and expensive binding arbitration process just to achieve a fair contract."

Both sides are now working to submit and choose their individual representatives for the tripartite panel. The chairman of the panel will be a mutually accepted arbitrator. An award will likely not be issued before next summer, insiders said.

Asked whether the city would look to expedite the proceedings considering the NYPD's recruitment struggles, Mr. Hanley responded, "It's the process. If we didn't do something on it, then it would be later and later."

He said officers deserved a raise, adding, "This has been dragging on way too long."

Cops have expressed frustration over having to routinely wait for raises, but most have gotten used to the situation. "It feels like five years since we last got a raise," one officer said. "But what are you going to do?"