The Chief
March 23, 2007

PBA Says Cop Shortage Merits Break in Parity

City Disputes Claim Situation Matches Nurses' in '87

By REUVEN BLAU

As the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association contract arbitration process plods along, the union plans to cite a past deviation from pattern bargaining to solve a nursing shortage to try to convince arbitrators to dramatically redefine how cops are compensated.

JAMES F. HANLEY: Not comparable to Nurses.     
JAMES F. HANLEY: Not comparable to Nurses.

 

City Labor Commissioner James F. Hanley, however, has steadfastly maintained that comparing the current NYPD recruitment struggles to the Nurse shortage during the late 1980s is an "irresponsible" association. "It's like apples and oranges," he asserted last week.

Exceeded City Pattern

During the round of bargaining that covered 1987 to 1990, in order to help attract more Nurses, Mayor Ed Koch's administration significantly changed how it paid them by reinstating a parity clause that shattered the wage pattern applied to the other unions.

Under that provision, the city agreed to survey nurses' salaries in 14 hospitals in nearby areas. It then used that average minus $150 to set the starting pay for the Nurses employed by at the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

ED KOCH: No shortage, but cops deserve more.
ED KOCH: No shortage, but cops deserve more.

Based on that system, the salary for city Nurses was adjusted four times a year, a setup that was later modified to twice annually. It has since been changed back to the standard collective-bargaining arrangement, which typically includes set negotiated increases each year.

During his testimony before an arbitration panel handling the PBA's contract in 2002, Mr. Hanley talked extensively about prior rounds of bargaining and that contract, which he called "generous." Towards the end of his testimony, he told the three-person panel, "If ever there was something that was unique, this was it."

Turnover Rate Soared

During that hearing, Mr. Hanley stressed that Nurses were different because "we had 1,000 vacancies." In addition, the attrition rate for Nurses was 24.9 percent from 1987 to 1988, and 49.9 percent of them were leaving in their first year of employment.

The PBA has countered presently that the NYPD acknowledged in January that it is 1,000 officers short of its hiring goals. Despite that contention, the union appears to be facing an uphill battle.

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Challenges pattern concept.
PATRICK J. LYNCH: Challenges pattern concept.
Over the past 15 years, the PBA has unsuccessfully attempted to convince arbitrators that the NYPD's recruitment struggles were analogous to the Nurse shortage. Prior arbitrators primarily rejected that connection, ruling that the longstanding tradition of salary parity between cops and firefighters must be maintained in order to avert serious financial complications for the city.

The PBA is now hoping to use the NYPD's continued recruitment problems to its advantage. "What's different now is that the city is now admitting the recruitment crisis," a PBA official said. "When they were paying almost $40,000 a year to start, they couldn't fill a class."

Shortage Less Severe

But city negotiators maintain that it's a bad comparison. Currently, the city employs 7,090 Nurses, compared to approximately 22,000 cops. That difference accentuated the city's 1,000-Nurse shortage two decades ago and compelled the Koch administration to take drastic action.

In addition, the city was temporarily forced to hire Nurses from the Philippines and other countries. "We gave bonuses to people if you could produce a Nurse from overseas," Mr. Hanley recalled last week.

The Nurse shortage, he added, was a nationwide problem. "At that time there were friends of mine in the business in other counties, certainly in the area, that were reopening their contract," Mr. Hanley testified in 2002.

The Director of Labor Relations in Westchester County, Mr. Hanley noted, reopened contract talks with Nurses in his area just one month after increasing their salaries via a new deal. "So we hear a great deal about hemorrhaging Nurses," Mr. Hanley added. "At that time it really was the case."

But presently police agencies nationwide are also having difficulties recruiting new cops, according to some law-enforcement experts. "It's almost a critical issue," said Bill Naber, a criminal justice consultant based in Los Angeles.

'War Draining Pool'

According to Mr. Naber, only 60 percent of the police forces across the country are fully staffed. "The Iraq war has drained off a lot of candidates that we would normally see joining," he said last October.

The Office of Labor Relations has repeatedly cited the national recruitment problem - and not the slashed starting salary of $25,100 for officers during their first six months - as one of the major factors that has led to the NYPD's recruitment problems.

But asked about the national police shortage last week, Mr. Hanley downplayed the issue.

Former Mayor Koch, who has been a strong supporter of Mayor Bloomberg, agreed. "There is no shortage of cops; there was a shortage of Nurses," he said during a phone interview last week. "But that doesn't mean it's fair to have the starting salary so low."

He suggested that the PBA agree to some productivity givebacks to finance an increase for its entry-level members. "It's not a hard problem, nor is the solution difficult," he said.

City Upped the Ante

Beginning last May, 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, concessions the PBA rejected.

Then on March 2, the Uniformed Firefighters' Association tentatively accepted similar benefit givebacks to offset the cost of raising future Firefighters' starting pay to $35,000. 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.

City negotiators contend that the later UFA raises would significantly increase the starting salary and maximum pay for police officers, eliminating the union's contention that there is a need to structurally change how cops are compensated based on other jurisdictions.

Lynch Isn't Buying

But PBA President Patrick J. Lynch has continually scoffed at making concessions and questioned the legality of pattern bargaining, which he has pointed out is not mentioned in the Taylor Law.

Mr. Hanley has countered that pattern bargaining and pay parity between officers in the NYPD and FDNY is an essential component of the collective-bargaining process. Without pattern bargaining, he has stressed, there would be chaos, just as there was during the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period of negotiations he has referred to as "the parity wars."

During that stretch, an arbitrator awarded the Sergeants' Benevolent Association additional money and benefits above what their FDNY equivalent, Lieutenants, had gotten, which forced the city to reopen contract talks with all the other uniformed unions.

"One of my predecessors called it the nuclear meltdown of labor negotiations, and that's exactly what happened," Mr. Hanley testified in 2002. "It ultimately ended when Police Officers actually went on strike in 1971."

Costly 'Leapfrogging'

The "leapfrogging and whipsawing" during those negotiations cost the city approximately $300 million, according to Mr. Hanley. "And it certainly destabilized labor relations for some period of time," he said in his testimony.

Since 1898, Mr. Hanley noted, there has been salary parity between Police Officers and Firefighters, as well as with various titles in each department. "Police Sergeants, Fire Lieutenants, and Correction Captains, they all receive the same salary and it's the same relationship that they bear to their subordinate title," Mr. Hanley testified. "That's the way they've been for many, many years."

The PBA, however, is hoping to change that tradition, contending that its members' salaries should be based on what other agencies in surrounding counties pay their cops.