The Chief
January 5, 2007

Editorial

PBA Stalling Arbitration

Following the graduation ceremonies for 1,359 rookie cops Dec. 26, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly reiterated his concerns about the low salaries for the new officers and questioned the way that the city's use of pattern bargaining has forced the police unions representing superior officers to make greater concessions to match the wage gains of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Both matters are consequences of the arbitration process used to decide the last PBA contract 18 months ago.

Mr. Kelly said he was optimistic that the starting salary would be addressed in the pending PBA arbitration, and "the sooner the better." Unfortunately, "sooner" doesn't appear to be in the cards, and for that the fault lies primarily with the PBA.

The day after the graduation ceremony, the two sides were due to meet to choose an arbitration panel chairperson from among a list of nine names presented by the Public Employment Relations Board. But the PBA canceled, and the Daily News in its Dec. 29 edition reported that it was because the PBA objected to two of the listed arbitrators, whom the paper identified as being among the three who issued a 1997 arbitration award that forced cops - like all other city employees - to accept a two-year wage freeze.

According to the News, however, there was another sticking point regarding those arbiters. The paper quoted a "union source" saying, "They work for the city's Office of Collective Bargaining. How is that neutral?"

This was yet another gratuitous slap at OCB by a union that has made a habit of it. What made it remarkable in this case, however, was that it came just three weeks after OCB's adjudicating arm, the Board of Collective Bargaining, had handed the police unions a major victory by ruling that the city and the NYPD committed an improper practice by implementing hair drug-testing without negotiating the matter.

PBA President Pat Lynch had previously said the BCB's delay in making a ruling in the case further proved that it was an arm of the Bloomberg administration. He was curiously mute when asked for comment once the ruling went his way.

So perhaps we shouldn't be shocked about a "union source" once again questioning OCB's integrity. Nonetheless, the PBA really had to stretch to bring the agency into this one.

The arbitrators being referred to are Arnold Zack and Stanley Aegis. Both were part of the BCB panel that decided the PBA contract a decade ago. Neither, however, has any current affiliation with the BCB, other than being part of a panel from the National Academy of Arbitrators that it occasionally uses (Mr. Zack, in fact, is a former president of the academy). And both were among the names submitted for consideration by PERB during the previous two contract arbitrations Mr. Lynch has dealt with, and in neither case did the union refuse to consider the list because they were on it.

In any arbitration process, there are going to be candidates that one side or the other finds objectionable, and they are allowed to challenge them. Knocking out those two would still have left seven potential candidates for chairman.

And so the PBA's canceling last week's session to try to narrow the list defies explanation if you are looking for a substantive reason. City officials have insisted for more than a year, however, that the union has been stalling the contract process based on political considerations, and while there is no love lost between the two sides, that claim has become increasingly hard to dispute.

The city's argument has been that Mr. Lynch would prefer that the contract not be decided until after his election next spring. A contract reached 15 months ago with the Uniformed Firefighters' Association that overlaps the two-year period at issue in the PBA negotiating impasse provides raises of 3 and 3.15 percent, which Mr. Lynch has termed unacceptable.

Given the long history of salary parity between cops and firefighters, however, and the unwillingness of arbitrators in the past to disturb that relationship, the chances of the PBA doing better are exceedingly slim. And so city officials have said that Mr. Lynch would rather have members casting their ballots in a state of anger with the Bloomberg administration over an unsettled contract than focusing their anger on him because he has failed to break the pattern set in the UFA deal.

Labor Relations Commissioner Jim Hanley said with exasperation Dec. 29, "We certainly have done everything we can to resolve this contract to get a raise for police officers at all levels. Yet again, there's a delaying tactic on the part of the union, and it's unfortunate."

What is also unfortunate is that the PBA has moved from past trashing of OCB's integrity to questioning the fairness of nationally respected arbitrators put forward by the state agency that Mr. Lynch previously had told members would finally give them the fair consideration on salary issues that was supposedly lacking in the past. There comes a point when this sort of behavior becomes a stain on the union's credibility rather than that of the bodies its leader is criticizing.

The PBA's refusal to consider the list presented by PERB figures to slow the process enough to perhaps ensure that by the time a chairman is chosen (the other two arbitrators will be representatives of the city and the union), it will be impossible to have a contract award issued until after the election.

This may serve Mr. Lynch's political interests, but it's hard to see how it serves his members.