November 25, 2014

Tap PBA Arbitrators For Battle Over City Bargaining Pattern

Union Expected to Use Linn’s ‘Laughingstock’ Comment To Boost Pay Case


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Makes case cops are underpaid.  

An arbitration panel has been chosen for the contract dispute between the de Blasio administration and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association that will feature Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn attempting to make the case for honoring the city’s existing bargaining pattern while union officials cite his own words more than a dozen years ago—when he was their outside bargaining counsel—that “the compensation system for New York City officers is woefully inadequate.”

Anthony Zumbolo, the Executive Director of the state Public Employment Relations Board, said Nov. 19 that based on its conclusion that a bargaining impasse had been reached, PERB had chosen Howard C. Edelman to serve as chairman of the three-member arbitration panel. The other two members were chosen by the parties themselves, with Jay Waks designated by the PBA to reprise a role he played for the union in 2005 and 2008, and Mr. Linn acting as the city’s representative.

Award Months Away

A spokesman for PBA President Patrick J. Lynch, Al O’Leary, said, “No dates have been set” for the hearings, which he estimated would consume several months once the panelists work out dates when all of them are available. But he said with some amusement that one thing that could be safely predicted was that Mr. Linn’s past statements on the low salaries of NYPD cops compared to others in neighboring jurisdictions would figure prominently in the case the union put forward.

In the run-up to a 2002 arbitration case in which he was retained by the PBA, Mr. Linn told this newspaper that he wouldn’t even have to cite what he called a 70-percent gap in compensation between NYPD officers and their counterparts in Nassau and Suffolk counties to make his case that city cops were badly underpaid. That could be done, he said then, by pointing out that city cops were getting 27 percent less in hourly compensation than those in Newark, once the shorter work schedules of the officers in that New Jersey city were factored in.

He was even more cutting in his arguments before that 2002 arbitration panel, stating, “New York City police salaries are a laughingstock; throughout the nation everyone knows that city cops are underpaid.”

In that arbitration, as well as the ones in 2005 and 2008, the PBA succeeded in getting awards slightly better than the contracts previously negotiated in those bargaining rounds by other city unions. Its attempt to do so again, however, is likely to be complicated by the structure of the contracts reached by other unions so far this year combined with the fact that the last PBA contract expired more than four years ago.

2-Year-Limit Issue

Under PERB’s rules, no arbitration award can be for more than two years unless both sides consent. And the existing wage pattern for the two-year period following the expiration of the last PBA contract provides a $1,000 bonus in the first year in lieu of a wage increase and just a 1-percent raise in the second year. That was why PBA President Lynch announced, just before a press conference was held May 1 on the contract deal between the city and the United Federation of Teachers that established that pattern, that his union had filed for arbitration.

The UFT pact actually began with two 4-percent raises, but those were left over from a previous bargaining round and matched raises the PBA had actually negotiated in August 2008, just three months after its last arbitration award. The remainder of the Teacher deal featured raises totaling just 10 percent over a seven-year period, and Mr. Lynch and other uniformed-union leaders made clear their unwillingness to entertain terms that would not keep up with expected rises in the cost of living. (Several civilian-employee unions, on the other hand, have since accepted those terms, even though they weren’t fortified by the huge back-pay awards that Teachers and two groups of city nurses were able to negotiate as part of their pacts.)

Disregarded ’04 Pattern

In a 2005 arbitration, a cheap District Council 37 deal negotiated a year earlier stood as a roadblock to the PBA’s aspirations, but the neutral chairman of that panel, Eric Schmertz, made clear his skepticism that the DC 37 terms constituted a pattern that should be applied to the police union. This time around, the fact that most of the city’s civilian unions have embraced the pattern set by the UFT would make it less likely that Mr. Edelman—a veteran arbitrator who has decided contracts for cops, firefighters. Teachers and, late last year, New York City transit supervisors—would disregard it in crafting his recommendations to the other two panel members.

At the time in the summer of 2010 that the last PBA contract expired, its members’ maximum salaries already trailed those paid by the Long Island police departments by more than $20,000, a gap that has continued to grow. In a full-page ad the union ran last month, it didn’t even focus on the suburban disparity, instead pointing out that Port Authority Police Officers, who are based either in Manhattan or in New Jersey, are paid nearly $14,000 more at maximum than NYPD cops, although “they work side by side, protecting New Yorkers from crime and terror.”

In a shot aimed at Mayor de Blasio’s description of his political leanings, the ad asked, “Is that progressive?”