January 29, 2013


Cuomo’s Limits For Arbitration Awards May Not Cover City


Patrick Lynch; Decries scapgoating     

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Eyes proposal warily.


Governor Cuomo’s proposed limit of 2-percent annual raises for police and fire contracts decided under binding arbitration for financially troubled localities doesn’t apply to New York City, but at least one union is keeping a watchful eye on the plan as it begins its move through budget negotiations in Albany.

The proposed limit on pay awards dovetails with the Governor’s successful imposition in 2011 of a 2-percent ceiling on property-tax increases that localities could levy unless 60 percent of their legislators agreed to a higher boost. Labor-related costs, particularly geared to pensions, have drawn growing complaints from local governments unhappy about “unfunded mandates” they are saddled with due to state actions.

UFOA: City Exempted

Some municipal union officials said their understanding was that Mr. Cuomo’s proposal would exempt New York City from the arbitration limits. John Dunne, the state political action and legislative chair for the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said Jan. 25, “Our attorney’s opinion is we’re not impacted by it. We would certainly support other unions in their fight” against it.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch appeared less certain it would not directly affect his union. He said in a statement that given the Taylor Law’s prohibition of strikes by public employees, binding arbitration was “a way of leveling the playing field and making it a fair fight. Without the right to strike and binding arbitration, the city holds all the cards and could literally dictate contract terms where unions would have no recourse. While this proposal seems to exempt NYC, the PBA will be watching closely and we will vehemently oppose any attempt to limit arbitration awards for our members.”

The PBA has gone to arbitration five times since the early 1990s, enjoying limited success in its first two attempts under former presidents but managing to exceed existing city bargaining patterns in its next two under Mr. Lynch.

One reason for the union’s vigilance on this issue as it winds its way through the Legislature was provided by a Daily News editorial a day after the Governor issued his budget plan stating, “Binding arbitration ought to be capped for all players at all times, if not eliminated altogether.”

A Long Island Remedy?

As envisioned by Mr. Cuomo, the cap would apply outside the city for any locality deemed to be “financially distressed.” That criterion would be met if its reserve funds were less than 5 percent of its budgets over a five-year period, or if tax rates ranked in the top 25 percent statewide.

The primary complaints about excessive awards in arbitration over the years have involved Nassau and Suffolk counties, where County Leaders and legislators enjoyed political alliances with the police unions. Arbitration became a way for those elected officials to ensure generous increases in salary and benefits while insulating themselves from political fallout, even though it became clear that they had given the arbitrators license to do so by their continued appointment of them.

The extent to which unions had taken advantage of the largesse became clear about a decade ago after a Democrat, Thomas R. Suozzi, became Nassau County Executive and discovered that his police officers were entitled to night-differential bonuses under previous arbitration awards for every hour of the day except from 11 a.m. to noon. The three-person arbitration panel that later knocked another 31/2 hours out of the night-differential zone included the arbiter who had first granted the nearly all-encompassing benefit.