The Chief
March 16, 2007

Cops on Street Fault City For Stalled Contract

Despite Firefighter Deal, Back PBA On Arbitration

By REUVEN BLAU

Police Officers said last week that they supported the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's hard-line approach to continue pursuing a new contract via arbitration, despite the just-announced Firefighter accord, which if ratified would temporarily place cops' maximum salaries even further behind their uniformed counterparts.

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Rank and file backs strategy.     
PATRICK J. LYNCH: Rank and file backs strategy.

 

Under the Uniformed Firefighters' Association deal, Firefighters would reach the $68,475 maximum pay after five years on the job, as of Aug. 1. That figure is $8,887 more than the $59,588 maximum salary cops currently earn after 5-1/2 years of service.

'Every Deal We Lose'

"I'm disappointed," said one veteran cop at the 70th Precinct in Kensington, Brooklyn. "Good for them that they can get it. But as far as the cops go, every year that we settle a contract we get something taken away from us."

Beginning in May last year, the Bloomberg administration made two offers to the PBA that would have raised starting salary by about $10,000. But the city also demanded that new officers accept reductions in leave time and some differential pay. Similar concessions were accepted by the UFA to offset the cost of raising Firefighters' starting pay to $35,000.

The current $25,100 starting pay for Police Officers during their first six months of training has made it difficult for the NYPD to recruit new officers, and practically impossible for cops with families to pay their basic bills.

The Police Officers who commented about the contract situation all spoke on condition of anonymity, so as not to violate the NYPD's strict rules against speaking to the media without permission.

'Union Doing What It Can'

"I think the union is trying to do what it can to help the police," the cop with 17 years on the job said.

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The Chief-Leader/Adrienne Haywood-James

STAND BY THEIR UNION: Brooklyn cops at the 70th Precinct stationhouse said last week that they supported the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's hard-line contract negotiation stance with the Bloomberg administration. The officers all expressed frustration that they have been working under an expired contract for nearly three years.

But one of his nearby colleagues quipped, "More Food Stamps!"

He was referring to reports that several new officers who joined the department under the drastically reduced starting salary have been forced to seek government assistance.

The Brooklyn cops all expressed frustration that they have been working under an expired contract since Aug. 1, 2004. "Why do we have to wait three years?" one cop asked. "Where is the money going? The money is sitting in the bank and the city is collecting interest on it."

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch has suggested that the city be required to pay interest on all retroactive raises.

Employees in private industry generally receive raises and bonuses each year, the veteran officer noted. "What do these kids get?" he asked, pointing to his colleagues, who were busy checking their Mega Millions lottery tickets. "Bottles thrown at them for the last three years; they are not even keeping up with the cost of living."

Eye on Suburban Forces

He noted that he has advised the new officers - roughly 90 percent of those assigned to the 70th Precinct - to take the exams leading to jobs in other nearby departments, which handle fewer emergency calls and pay their officers substantially more.

Asked if he ever considered transferring, he responded, "If I was younger, I would."

Cops haven't gotten a significant raise since Mayor Koch left office after losing a 1989 bid for a fourth term, he contended. "It seems to be a pattern of not taking care of officers for years," he remarked. "I work two jobs, whatever overtime I can. It's supposed to get a little easier as you get older - not harder."

Police Officers, he pointed out, have to make split-second decisions involving complex rules and regulations. "Why shouldn't we get paid top dollar?" he asked. "When you call an attorney for information, they tell you they'll get back to you after they look it up. Guys in the street have to know the law."

'Asking More, Not Paying'

Keeping records of domestic-dispute calls and other incidents has also gotten more complicated. "It's just that they are asking so much more of you," he continued. "And we are not getting anything in return. I'm 43 years old and I've never heard anywhere where you go three years without getting anything. Anybody else would just quit or strike."

Officers have also never been fairly rewarded for helping to reduce crime, he said. In 1990, there was an average of 50 homicides a year in the area, he noted. "That's almost one a week," he observed. "Last year we had 11 [all year]. Just that alone should be enough for them to say we are doing a good job."

But the contract dispute between the PBA and the Bloomberg administration is once again headed towards arbitration, with the union now questioning the process.

Mayor Bloomberg has maintained that the wage model for uniformed employees was set for the round of bargaining at issue in the PBA dispute in the fall of 2005 by the UFA'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 for a two-year period.

Extending the Pattern

On March 2, Labor Commissioner James F. Hanley asserted that the tentative UFA deal - which provides Firefighters with raises totaling 8.16 percent over two years - created the pattern for the new round of bargaining as well. "This deal established the parameters for all the uniformed unions in this round of bargaining," he said.

But Mr. Lynch has questioned the legality of pattern bargaining, which he has repeatedly pointed out is not mentioned in the Taylor Law. Despite that assertion, prior arbitration chairmen have factored in pattern bargaining when calculating contract awards. In addition, there has been more than 100 years of salary parity between the city's Firefighters and Police Officers.

The officers in Brooklyn appeared resigned to the arbitration process, which has traditionally dragged on for well over a year. "We had to have someone else make our decisions for us last time," one officer with two years on the job said. "And what did we get?"

'Use Surplus to Pay Us'

Asked about the current stalemate, he responded, "I think the city should be able to pay its cops, especially now that there is a surplus."

Cops who are out on patrol, he said, are often the first to respond to all types of emergency calls. "We go into burning buildings without equipment on," he said, holding up his hands. "I just bandaged a burn victim."

A typical firehouse, he noted, handles between 6 and 10 calls a night. "In this precinct, every car does about 25 radio calls a night," he continued. "It's a lot more dangerous, and for what? We barely have enough for food and rent."

The low pay has made veteran officers bitter, the two-year veteran observed. "You can't make a decent living unless you get promoted," he remarked. "Now it has become a boss's job."

Despite all his issues with the job, he said he didn't regret leaving business school after three years to join the NYPD. "I didn't take this job for the money," he remarked. "But I was always thinking there would be a new contract soon. I look at my check every week and I'm disgusted."

Rewards Not Monetary

Working as a Police Officer is a rewarding job, "But that good feeling at the end of the day doesn't make up for when you have to pay your bills," he commented. "If I had kids and a house, I'd be worried."

His co-worker, who also became a cop two years ago before the pay scale was stretched, questioned the city's bargaining stance. "I don't think it's fair that the city tries to have pattern deals with Firefighters when our jobs are completely different," he remarked. "It seems like both sides can't come to an agreement because they are busy pointing fingers."

He joined the NYPD, he said, after moving from a midwest city that was laying off officers. But since then he has become disenchanted with the job and has taken police tests for Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, and two other nearby districts.

"We are making crap," he asserted. "Hopefully I'll get on with another department and then I won't have to deal with it."

Many of his colleagues have also taken exams leading to other civil service jobs, he said. "People are even signing up for the Sanitation exam," he said. "That's a disgrace. I mean, it's a respectable job, but not as rewarding."

Concerning the police contract dispute, he said he believed arbitration was the only option the PBA has because "the city doesn't want to negotiate in good faith."

In four of the past 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 traditionally taken well over a year to resolve.

"It just doesn't seem right to me," he commented. "We have the right to the pursuit of happiness. The happiness isn't guaranteed, but the pursuit is."