May 12, 2014

UFT’s 4% 2009-10 Pay Hikes Won’t Be Paid Until 2015-18

As PBA Looks to Arbitrate, Uniformed ‘Superiors’ Eye Bargaining As Coalition


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Bound for arbitration again?  

Even as new details emerged about the United Federation of Teachers contract—most noteworthy of them that the two 4-percent raises that are its prime selling point won’t begin to be implemented until next year—the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association began moving toward a possible contract arbitration and unions representing supervisors in four uniformed agencies were discussing bargaining as a coalition.

The actions by the PBA and the superior-officer unions in the Police, Fire, Correction and Sanitation departments are indications of discontent about the potential pattern the UFT contract, if ratified, would create for the rest of the workforce. In contrast, two key presidents of civilian-employee unions offered positive comments about the UFT terms, even though like their uniformed-union counterparts they would not be eligible for the two 4-percent raises because their members received them at least five years ago through deals with the Bloomberg administration.

Broke His Own Pattern

Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut off bargaining in mid-round late in 2009 on the grounds that the impact of the national financial crisis on the city made it impossible to honor the pattern he had already created. That left the UFT and unions representing school supervisors and custodians, Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses shut out until Mayor de Blasio signed off on the May 1 accord with UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Uniformed-union leaders contended last week that minus the two 4-percent raises the UFT is getting, the remainder of its deal amounts to a 10-percent wage hike over seven years. They noted that this would likely fail to keep pace with the rise in the cost of living, and police-union leaders were at least as unhappy that an 18-month period of the UFT deal—which would potentially constitute the very start of their own contracts—features a wage freeze, although a $1,000 bonus would be paid.

“Taking those first two 4’s out of the mix insofar as its application to my members, it’s a tough egg to swallow,” said Captains’ Endowment Association President Roy Richter. And the possibility of a partial wage freeze brings back uncomfortable memories of the 1990s, when uniformed unions were forced to accept a total of 3½ years of no raises covering two contract periods, something police and fire unions at the time denounced as “zeroes for heroes.”

Carryover to Health Plan

“A zero in a police contract scratches and opens up old wounds,” Mr. Richter said.

Unhappiness about the terms of the UFT contract was believed to have accounted for opposition by some uniformed unions to a key piece of that union’s deal that directly affects them: a plan to generate health-care savings that would save the city $3.4 billion over the next four years. Four uniformed unions voted against the plan, while among civilian unions it was approved unanimously except for the abstention by one president of a District Council 37 local.

Detectives’ Endowment Association President Michael J. Palladino said his vote against it was spurred by the process by which the health-benefits issue got rolled into the UFT contract talks after Municipal Labor Committee Chairman Harry Nespoli had twice told Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn that his organization would not seriously discuss health savings until the UFT and the other unions shut out by Mr. Bloomberg’s edict had gotten their 4-percent raises from the earlier bargaining round.

“I didn’t really take issue with the terms and conditions of the health piece,” Mr. Palladino said.

Mr. Richter called the health-benefits deal—which will spare municipal workers from having to pay a piece of their health premiums although state and transit workers having been doing so for years—“a win-win” for both sides, with the city expecting the projected savings to continue to increase.

Choose PBA Mediator

Some uniformed-union leaders were known to have reservations about the lack of detail about how the savings would be achieved. Those representing Firefighters, Police Sergeants and Detective-Investigators joined Mr. Palladino in voting against it. PBA President Patrick J. Lynch did not send a representative to the MLC meeting. He has been preparing for a possible arbitration, hoping to duplicate his success on three occasions during the Bloomberg administration in using that route to gain wage terms for incumbent Police Officers that were slightly better than the existing bargaining patterns.

The Public Employment Relations Board has designated Alan R. Viani, a former chief negotiator for DC 37 who has spent nearly three decades since as a top official of the city Office of Collective Bargaining and then as a private arbitrator, to mediate the PBA case—a necessary step before the parties can proceed to binding arbitration.

Over the three arbitrations in which he has been involved during his 15 years as PBA president, Mr. Lynch has argued that his members’ pay should be set not based on a comparison with what other city workers are receiving but with an eye toward what Police Officers in neighboring jurisdictions are being paid. The other uniformed unions are reluctant to wait for him to try to set a pattern because nine years ago the structure of his arbitration award—which offset two 5-percent raises for incumbent officers by sharply reducing the pay scale for future hires—wound up working to their disadvantage.

UFOA: Inclined to Negotiate

Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Al Hagan, who is considering joining the superior-officers coalition, said of his union, “We have a history of not relying on arbitration and [instead] trying to reach an agreement at the table.”

While some uniformed-union leaders criticized Mr. Mulgrew while wondering whether he was getting some special benefit from the city in return for signing off on the health-benefits deal first, he was praised by Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd for structuring his contract in such a way as to leave money available for raises for other unions.

“This was an unselfish contract by the UFT,” Mr. Floyd said May 8, the day after UFT delegates overwhelmingly approved sending the deal out to their members for ratification. “The fact that they spread their retro raises over a period of time means there’s money available for other unions.”

He was referring to the reality that the cost of providing the 4-percent raises with full retroactivity to the UFT is roughly $3.4 billion, and once the other eligible unions are included the tab exceeds $4 billion, according to Mr. Linn. Had the money been paid in full during the fiscal year that starts July 1, it would have consumed much if not all of the expected budget surplus, leaving little for collective bargaining with the rest of the workforce or for the Mayor’s own new spending initiatives.

‘Retro’ Not Only Delay

It was known at the time the UFT deal was announced May 1 that the union had agreed to ease the fiscal impact on the city by having the retroactive payments delayed until October 2015, and then—after skipping a payment in 2016—apportioned in four further annual installments concluding in October 2020.

Last week it was revealed that the 2015 and 2017 installments would each be just 12.5 percent of the money that is owed, with the final three payments each amounting to 25 percent of the total. According to the UFT, those who were at maximum salary at the time the prior contract expired on Nov. 1, 2009 will receive $54,000 in retroactive pay under the pact; a sixth-year Teacher making $58,639 at that point would receive $31,000 in back pay by the time the final retro installment comes in October 2020.

Teachers who are still on the payroll as of June 30 will be entitled to retroactive pay for the full contract period they worked prior to that.

Past payments of retroactive raises, although rarely covering a period this long, have generally been made in the second paycheck after a contract is ratified.

A notice on the UFT website last week informed union members that the two 4-percent raises—which typically in the past would have been implemented in the first paycheck after a deal was ratified—would also be paid in installments, with the first due next May. They would provide 2 percent of the raises in each of four installments, all to be effected annually in May until the final one is implemented in 2018.

‘A Framework for Us’

While the delays took some of the luster off those raises for UFT members, Mr. Floyd said the savings provided to the city in the short term was what had allowed for the subsequent raises—three 1-percent hikes followed by increases of 1.5, 2.5 and 3 percent.

“The deal they worked out is a framework that the local can work with,” Mr. Floyd said. He cited the lack of a health-care premium charge, retroactive money that for his union would likely be part of the initial three 1-percent raises, and “money going forward” from the final three hikes as appealing.

That view was echoed by Anthony Wells, president of one of DC 37’s larger locals, Social Service Employees Local 371. “It sets the parameters,” he said in a May 9 phone interview. “Unions can tailor it to their own needs. And it keeps health-care costs down. Our members have been struggling for years; this opens the door for some relief.”

Asked how quickly he would look to meet with the city’s Labor Commissioner, Mr. Floyd responded, “As soon as Bob Linn is available to sit down with us, we are ready.”