The Chief
August 3, 2007

Cops Split Blame For Stalled Pact

Frustrated by Delay

By REUVEN BLAU

In front of the 70th Precinct in Kensington, Brooklyn, new officers scurried out in groups of five to their patrol posts, while their veteran counterparts voiced their frustration over their union's stalled contract negotiations.

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Claims 'without merit.'
PATRICK J. LYNCH: Criticized along with Mayor.

"Enough is enough!" one officer standing outside the precinct house asserted July 26. "When is this going to happen?"

Pact May Be Year Away

He was referring to the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's contract arbitration. After nearly a year of legal wrangling, the arbitration process has finally moved forward with the selection of a panel chair, Susan T. Mackenzie.

The hearings, however, will likely not be scheduled for several months. The process is expected to drag on until next summer, barring a breakthrough in negotiations. Police Officers are working under a contract that expired Aug. 1, 2004, while their supervisors have all agreed to extended new deals with the Bloomberg administration.

Many of the Brooklyn officers initially shied away from discussing how the recently announced agreements for NYPD Captains and Sergeants, as well as Sanitation Workers and fire officers, will affect their own chances of breaking salary parity with other uniformed unions.

But after a little prodding, the cops all said they were just focused on their job and waiting for the deal to be finally announced. "It's the daily topic of conversation," one Hispanic officer remarked. "I know it's coming. I hope it's coming."

Officers with several years' experience were less optimistic. "The day they give us something even close to a Nassau Police Officer, I will run naked with my head on fire through the streets," a veteran cop exclaimed, as he walked into the precinct to start his mid-day tour.

Nassau County Police Officers are among the country's highest-paid. An arbitration panel July 2 awarded veteran county officers annual 4-percent raises over six years, financed partly by freezing the starting pay for new hires and other concessions.

Under the award, the new maximum pay for Nassau cops - not including an added longevity bonus - with the first-year hike is $96,129, up from $91,737. By April 1, 2012 - the final year of the deal - top pay will reach $116,955.

That maximum salary is $23,779 more than the $93,176 NYPD Lieutenants and First Grade Detectives currently receive annually. It is also nearly twice the top pay for Police Officers, who get $59,588 after 5-1/2 years under a contract that expired three years ago.

Fault Mayor, Lynch

The Brooklyn officers, who all spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to violate the NYPD's strict rules against talking to the media without permission, blamed Mayor Bloomberg and PBA President Patrick J. Lynch for the ongoing contract dispute.

"It's a collective of everybody," one young officer commented. "Nobody wants to sit down and talk about anything."

In five of the past six 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 has also been costly and produced mixed results. In April 2005, the PBA increased its membership dues by $7 per paycheck, a 35-percent hike. Mr. Lynch said that the raise was necessary to cover the cost of the last contract arbitration hearings and to offset the loss of roughly 5,000 dues-paying members since he took office.

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.

Balk at Trade-Off

Citing that pattern, beginning in May 2006 city negotiators made two offers to the PBA that would have raised starting salaries by about $10,000. But the city also demanded that new officers accept reductions in leave time and some differential pay, concessions the PBA has soundly rejected.

The Brooklyn officers generally appeared to support the union's hard-line approach. "They've offered to give things back," a veteran officer asserted, referring to the city's proposals. "We finance our own raises - that's not a raise."

Asked if he believed having the issue settled by an arbitrator was worth the wait and cost, he responded, "There's no such thing as worth it. At the end of the day, give me a contract for two years; give me what I'm worth."

He noted that several of the officers who have been fatally shot by suspects in the past few years worked in the Impact Zone precinct. "Collectively, for us to make that much less than even a fireman right now or sanitation is a freaking insult," he added.

Contract agreements for those groups have placed their starting salaries higher than the $25,100 new police recruits earn during their first six months of training. The starting salary for Firefighter is $35,000 and beginning pay for Sanitation Workers would jump to $30,000, pending that deal's ratification.

Tough to Get By

That salary gap has angered cops on patrol, who have complained that it's become increasingly difficult to live in the nation's most expensive city without receiving raises in more than two years. Employees in private-sector jobs generally receive increases and bonuses each year, they pointed out.

"Cops are supposed to defend everyone here, but we can't even live in the city," a veteran officer said. "You think on any one of our salaries we can go out and buy a house or even rent an apartment? Forget about even having a car to get to work in. It's a joke!"

Some officers tried to look as the positives. "We're going to get a big retro check," one cop said. "But then they tax the hell out of you."

The officers, however, were all especially upset that the contract dispute was occurring as they have continued to reduce crime in the area to record lows. In the early 1990s, there was an average of 50 homicides a year in the precinct. Last year, there were 11.

But the job still carries its dangers. "Be careful, there was shooting going on there all last night," one officer warned the rookies headed out on patrol.

A colleague nearby looked on. "Crime has been as low as the 1960s," he said. "It only makes sense that we get paid 1960s wages."