The Chief
September 14, 2007

PERB Nominee in Limbo

Schmertz Brouhaha Stalls Labor Cases

By REUVEN BLAU

The State Senate's continued opposition of Eric J. Schmertz's nomination to the Public Employment Relations Board is starting to create a backlog of labor cases pertaining to the state's largest public-employee union.

ERIC SCHMERTZ: Cop unions' unwanted man.
ERIC SCHMERTZ: Cop unions' unwanted man.

PERB Chairman Jerome Lefkowitz has recused himself from all matters involving his longtime former employer, the Civil Service Employees Association.

And Another Recusal

Similarly, the agency's other board member, Robert S. Hite, has removed himself from handling issues dealing with Council 82 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He served as the general counsel at that union from 1995 to 2000.

As a result, PERB has not addressed any matters brought to the board by those two unions since December. "I've recused myself from those cases," Mr. Lefkowitz said, referring to the CSEA. The board, he noted, does not have a quorum without his or Mr. Hite's vote.

By all accounts, the incomplete board has not created any pressing problems, as no major cases are currently pending. "We don't see it as an immediate crisis at the moment, but we'd certainly like to see PERB at full strength so that we don't run into a crisis," said CSEA spokesman Stephen Madarasz. "It is a cause for concern for the long term, but we just hope that there will be some resolution to it soon."

MICHAEL PALLADINO: Payback for 'pain.'
MICHAEL PALLADINO: Payback for 'pain.'

The unions representing NYPD Detectives, Lieutenants and Captains have bottled up Governor Spitzer's nomination of Mr. Schmertz, who was the chair of the 2005 Patrolmen's Benevolent Association arbitration panel, which created much controversy by sharply reducing the starting pay for new cops.

Forced Givebacks

Practically all of the city's uniformed unions have blasted that pattern-setting award, although it also increased incumbent officer salaries by 10.25 percent over two years, because those raises were partially funded by slashing the pay scale for new cops and other givebacks. The other police unions in all but one case had to slash starting pay for new promotees to get the same raises.

Mr. Lefkowitz, however, defended Mr. Schmertz's record and labor knowledge. "The Governor does not believe the objections to Eric are based upon his lack of ability or anything else," the PERB Chairman said during a recent phone interview. "He's just one of 60 appointees being held up by [Senate Majority Leader Joseph L.] Bruno."

The supervisory unions' opposition has apparently been enough to persuade Mr. Bruno to block the nomination.

The Governor and Senator Bruno have feuded bitterly for most of Mr. Spitzer's time in office. In addition to disagreements over matters ranging from ideology to ethics reforms, the new Governor's open attempt to swing control of the State Senate to Democrats has ensured clashes with Mr. Bruno, who would lose much of his power if the two-vote majority Republicans now enjoy in the state's upper house disappeared.

War Gets Personal

More recently, the Albany County District Attorney's Office and the State Senate's Investigations Committee have launched probes of the misuse of the State Police by top aides to the Governor who were gathering data in an attempt to embarrass Mr. Bruno about his use of state helicopters.

Despite the unintended consequences, the cop unions opposing Mr. Schmertz said they have no intention of backing down. "Schmertz leveled the worst concessions in three decades on uniformed civil service," asserted Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association. "Schmertz levied an awful lot of pain on the rank of Detective. I think his decision was irresponsible, to say the least."

Adam Tabelski, a spokesman for George D. Maziarz, who chairs the State Senate Labor Committee, did not return calls seeking comment. The committee approved Mr. Lefkowitz and Mr. Hite after they were nominated in February.

Not all the police unions have opposed Mr. Schmertz's nomination. "The DEA, LBA and CEA are doing the city's bidding by opposing the nomination of Eric Schmertz, who has a long history of fairly applying the state's labor laws," PBA President Patrick J. Lynch previously said in a statement. "In the face of a civilian settlement of zero and three percent over two years, Mr. Schmertz awarded the PBA 10.25 percent over the same period, paying police well over $100 million more in salary and benefits than they would have gotten under the civilian settlement."

Most of the city's other labor leaders have been highly critical of that award. Under it, the PBA had to consent to reductions in starting salary and the pay scale that currently stand to cost each of those newer cops $48,000 during their first six years on the job. In comparison, a less-severe stretch of the pay scale agreed to by District Council 37 during that period cost its new members an average of $6,900.