The Chief
March 2, 2007

New PERB Head Disputes City In PBA Arbitration

Says Only Board Can Choose Chairman To Settle Pact

By REUVEN BLAU

The acting chairman of the Public Employment Relations Board contended last week that the Bloomberg administration cannot force its agency director to designate the chairperson of the arbitration panel handling the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association contract.

PATRICK J. LYNCH: 'City stacking the deck.'     
RICHARD A. CURRERI: Man in the middle.  

"We are opposing the city's petition," said Jerome Lefkowitz, the acting PERB Chairman, "both on the merits, saying that they are wrong on the law, and on the procedure."

The matter was argued before Albany Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine on Feb. 23.

Curreri's Power At Issue

Labor Commissioner James F. Hanley is seeking to order PERB's Director of Conciliation, Richard A. Curreri, to designate the city's choice, Arnold M. Zack, to chair the mediation panel.

"The city believes that the responsibilities of the director are clear, as stated in PERB's own rules," said mayoral spokesman Jason Post. "It is unfortunate that the city has to go to court to ask PERB to do its job."

But Mr. Lefkowitz maintained that only the board has the power to handle appeals.

"He has no authority to act," he remarked, referring to Mr. Curreri. "And they have to exhaust their administrative remedies by appealing to the board."

The dispute began after the PBA questioned PERB's authority to act in the absence of a functioning board.

On Feb. 14, Governor Spitzer nominated Mr. Lefkowitz, Eric J. Schmertz and Robert S. Hite to the board. They have not been confirmed by the State Senate yet. "I'm acting Chairman, but that doesn't give me the authority to act as a board member," Mr. Lefkowitz said.

Further complicating matters, the PBA has called Mr. Zack - the former president of the National Academy of Arbitrators - biased against the union because he served on a panel that a decade ago froze cops' pay for two years. That prior decision was based on a wage pattern set by other uniformed unions at the time.

The city's suit, however, cited a memo attached to the list of nine arbitrators presented by Mr. Curreri to both sides in December stating that the city and union had to make their selections within five days. "The parties shall immediately notify the Board of the designated public member," the document states. "Upon the failure of one party to participate in the selection process, all names on the list shall be deemed acceptable to it."

Will Further Delay Pact

On that basis, the city contended that Mr. Curreri must immediately designate Mr. Zack as the chairperson. "Accordingly, petitioners seek an order compelling respondent Curreri to perform the ministerial act of immediately designating the public arbitration panel," the city's complaint argued.

The court battle will likely further delay an ultimate arbitration award likely to increase the starting salary for new officers. The current starting pay of $26,100 for officers during their first six months in training has created problems for the NYPD. The department is 1,000 officers short of its hiring goal.

But the NYPD is not the only agency presently waiting for the board to be affirmed, Mr. Lefkowitz said. "Other things have been held up too," he added. "That's why the Governor is putting the appointment of a board on the fast track, but that still doesn't give the director the power to impose a final decision."