September 2, 2014

Arbitration Looms Again In PBA Wage Dispute

Mediator Finds Impasse


For the fourth time in its last five rounds of bargaining, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association appears headed for binding arbitration of its contract after a mediator concluded that the union and the de Blasio administration could not resolve their differences through negotiations.

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Wants UFT pattern disregarded.  

Mediator Alan R. Viani has written to the Public Employment Relations Board—which appointed him to try to resolve the deadlock after the PBA sought the declaration of a bargaining impasse in early May—stating that he believes arbitration is required, according to a spokesman for PBA President Patrick J. Lynch.

‘Won’t Take Zeroes’

“We’re going to binding arbitration,” spokesman Al O’Leary said in an Aug. 26 phone interview. “They wanted us to take zeroes for some of the past years. That’s unacceptable to us.”

City Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn declined comment beyond saying, “We are waiting to hear from the PERB and we’ll respond then.”

The de Blasio administration in its contracts with a growing number of civilian unions has insisted on a signing bonus of $1,000 in lieu of a first-year wage increase. And while several of those unions, led by the United Federation of Teachers, negotiated two 4-percent raises—with large chunks of back pay due—that were consistent with deals former Mayor Michael Bloomberg negotiated with most municipal labor groups prior to 2009, the civilian unions that previously got those raises were compelled to settle for pay hikes of 10 percent over a seven-year period, which don’t figure to keep pace with the cost of living.

Mr. Lynch, notably, filed for an impasse declaration on the same day that the UFT pact was announced, making clear his dissatisfaction with the terms from it that would have been available to his members.

“We’re 20-to-30 percent below the market rate,” Mr. O’Leary said last week, referring to what is paid to other police officers in neighboring suburbs and those employed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Past city officials had pointed out that generous police contracts in Nassau and Suffolk Counties had created major fiscal problems, with Nassau still under a control board that must sign off on its contract deals.

PBA Success Under PERB

Following a 1997 ruling by a panel appointed by the city’s Board of Collective Bargaining that imposed the same two-year wage freeze at the outset of a five-year pay award that other unions had previously accepted, the union two years later secured a transfer to the jurisdiction of PERB for arbitration purposes. In three arbitration cases before PERB since then, Mr. Lynch—who became head of the union 15 years ago—has been able to do slightly better than other union leaders.

But the instance in which he did the best, a 2005 arbitration, featured a different kind of circumstance than the one with which he will be dealing should PERB—as seems likely—agree with Mr. Viani and set in motion the choosing of an arbitration panel.

The union for more than two decades has argued in arbitration that city bargaining patterns should be disregarded and that the more-relevant factor is the way in which city cops’ pay has fallen below that in neighboring jurisdictions by significant amounts. City officials have countered about the importance of honoring existing bargaining patterns, while claiming that once fringe benefits are considered, the differences in compensation are relatively minor.

Skeptical of Pattern

During the 2005 arbitration, the panel chairman, Eric Schmertz, was known to have expressed his belief outside the hearings that the contract for District Council 37 reached in April 2004 did not constitute a meaningful bargaining pattern. Weight was given to that belief by the fact that no other city union had agreed to the same terms—which provided a maximum of 6 percent in raises over three years and began with a bonus in lieu of a first-year pay hike—at the time a decision was being made in the PBA case.

Mr. Schmertz recommended two 5-percent wage hikes under a two-year pact—the maximum permitted under PERB’s rules unless both sides agreed to an extended deal. The city’s representative on the panel insisted this would be too costly unless it was offset by givebacks affecting future hires, and the three-member panel decided on a package that kept the raises intact but sharply lowered starting salary and stretched the pay scale in a way that was further harmful to the new cops.

Terms Hurt Recruitment

The result was a pay award that was embraced by officers already on the job, but the cuts in compensation for the “unborn” made it more difficult to recruit top-quality candidates. In a 2008 arbitration, Mr. Lynch again succeeded in doing better on raises for his incumbent members than other city workers, but they were forced to make some concessions that allowed the NYPD to reschedule their tours with limited notice without paying them more and forced them to take a vacation day to re-qualify each year at the department’s gun range.

This time around, the initial contract that set the pattern—the UFT’s—has been replicated by numerous other civilian unions, making it difficult to imagine any arbitrator would question its validity as a benchmark.

If that doesn’t pose enough of an obstacle for Mr. Lynch and his members, there is another complication: the growing number of union members who are part of a pension plan that is inferior to the one belonged to by cops hired prior to 2010.

In June 2009, then-Gov. David Paterson vetoed an extension of a bill that for three decades had permitted new cops and firefighters to be placed in Tier 2 of the pension system, forcing future hires into the less-generous Tier 3. Two of the latter tier’s biggest drawbacks are the requirement that members work 22 years before qualifying for retirement at full pension, rather than the 20 years that had been the standard, and the lack of a true disability benefit for injuries suffered in the line of duty.

Huge Difference on Benefit

For the growing number of cops hired from 2010 forward who are members of Tier 3 of the retirement system, the prospect of working an extra two years to qualify for a full pension is of concern but a distant one. The perils of no longer having the right to a disability pension providing 75 percent of salary tax-free, and instead being saddled with an ordinary disability allowance equal to 50 percent of salary and fully taxable, hit home in April when a Tier 3 member, Police Officer Rosa Rodriguez, was hospitalized for an extended period after she tried to rescue people from a Coney Island apartment fire that led to the death of her partner, Dennis Guerra. Officer Rodriguez still hopes to return to work, but there is concern that a combination of her injuries and the psychological trauma of the incident could force her to retire and collect the inferior pension.

Efforts to provide the old Tier 2 disability pension to Tier 3 cops and firefighters failed to make headway in Albany later in the spring. It had been speculated by some union officials that Mr. Lynch, who is up for re-election next year, might try to negotiate an agreement under which the city would support such legislation as part of a contract deal.

All Eyes on Outcome

But when Mr. O’Leary was asked whether the issue had come up during the mediation process, he said he had not been apprised of the details of the discussions.

A significant number of uniformed-union leaders who are known to be displeased with the pattern established by the UFT contract are expected to await the outcome of the PBA arbitration before coming to the bargaining table in earnest. Although some of those presidents shortly after the UFT pact was announced had talked about the possibility of forming a bargaining coalition—as they have done on a couple of occasions over the past 15 years—that would not wait for the PBA to reach contract terms, no further word has come on a joint bargaining effort.