The Chief
May 11, 2007

PERB Mediator To Decide PBA Arbitration Beef

Will Rule on Whether Union Defaulted On Chair's Selection

By REUVEN BLAU

The Public Employment Relations Board May 2 ruled that its Director of Conciliation should decide a protest filed by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association challenging the list of arbitrators submitted as candidates to decide its contract.

JEROME LEFKOWITZ: It's Curreri's call.  
JEROME LEFKOWITZ: It's Curreri's call.  

"We instructed Richard Curreri that he has authority to take action as he sees fit with respect to the matter pending before him," said PERB Chairman Jerome Lefkowitz, a few hours after the first meeting of the newly confirmed board.

To Rule Shortly

Mr. Curreri's decision is expected to be issued this week. The PBA and the Bloomberg administration have the ability to appeal that ruling to the board.

While the latest development is the first sign of progress in months, the arbitration process still appears to be far from being resolved anytime soon, despite the city's move to expedite the procedure.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said last week that he believed the process was "taking way too long." He reiterated that the decreased starting salary of $25,100 for recruits during their first six months of training has been hurting the department's ability to hire new cops.

As for the PERB meeting, Mr. Lefkowitz said that the board instructed Mr. Curreri to "exercise his discretion."

RAYMOND W. KELLY: Can't afford further delays.
RAYMOND W. KELLY: Can't afford further delays.

The board chairman added, "The city has gone to court saying he should appoint a particular individual as a mediator because the PBA has failed to participate in the process."

Legal Maneuvering

In February, the Bloomberg administration sued, seeking to force PERB to order Mr. Curreri to name the city's choice, Arnold M. Zack, to chair the mediation panel handling the PBA contract.

A month later, Albany County Supreme Court Justice Eugene P. Devine ruled that the court cannot compel PERB to act because the agency was not named in the city's suit. The city's Law Department has filed a notice of motion for an expedited appeal.

The dispute arose after the PBA questioned PERB's authority to act in the absence of a functioning board, which had been vacated after Governor Spitzer was elected.

The PBA has also 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.

Labor Commissioner James F. Hanley, however, has steadfastly maintained that Mr. Zack should be appointed because the union "defaulted."

Curreri Set Rules

The city's suit 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."

On that basis, the city contended that Mr. Curreri must immediately designate Mr. Zack as the chairperson. The full PERB panel is not needed to take that "ministerial" action, Mr. Hanley has said.

The PBA, however, has maintained that Mr. Curreri reneged on his promise concerning which arbitrators would be placed on the list. "What they did is they took arbitrators off the list that favorably ruled in an arbitration and included those that gave zeroes to New York City police officers - we think that's unfair," Mr. Lynch has said.

But Mr. Curreri has denied making such a promise. "There was no automatic rejection of panel members' names," he has said. "There was nothing like that."

Mr. Hanley has pointed out that the two arbitrators at issue, Mr. Zack and Stanley Aiges, were part of a panel operating under the jurisdiction of the city Board of Collective Bargaining, not PERB. Following their 1997 award, the PBA succeeded in getting legislation approved that permitted it to take contract disputes to the state panel.

Delaying Tactic

The Labor Commissioner has also noted that the two arbitrators were on the lists of candidates PERB presented to the two sides for the PBA arbitrations that were decided in 2002 and 2005. In neither case, he pointed out, did the union reject the lists based on their inclusion. He said he believed the union did so this time as a delaying tactic until the union's officer elections are completed.

The city is looking to move the process along to help boost the NYPD's struggling recruitment efforts. The Police Department is more than 1,000 officers short of its hiring goals, with many officers continuing to leave for higher paying forces in nearby counties.

Recruits have also been dropping out of the Police Academy at an increased rate, which Commissioner Kelly said was primarily due to the low pay. As of May 4, of the 1,357 officers who entered the January class, 209 have left.

"I think it's an issue that has to be rectified and it's in everyone's benefit to address it as quickly as possible," Mr. Kelly remarked referring to the salary. "I would hate to see it delayed as a result of continuing litigation. I don't see that in anybody's interest."