December 15, 2014 5:27 pm 

Terminal-Leave Breakthrough Makes Uniformed Coalition’s Day Under Pact

Terms Also Include Raise 1% Above Civilian Pattern


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Terms are not for him.  

A tentative contract deal reached Dec. 9 between the de Blasio administration and eight uniformed unions representing superior officers, while generally patterned on previous civilian-union settlements, includes two special elements: it would allow affected employees to receive accrued terminal leave in a lump sum after retirement and strengthen the city’s hand in an upcoming arbitration with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

Although the seven-year deal, which must still be ratified by the rank and files of each union, provides an additional 1-percent raise above the civilian settlements covering a similar period, several of the affected labor leaders conceded the hikes are unlikely to keep up with rises in the cost of living.

Reasons for Optimism

They said, however, that they expect the terms to be embraced by their members, citing three primary reasons. One was concern that the PBA arbitration award could wind up featuring benefit gains that are pegged to attrition rates, which historically have worked to the disadvantage of superior-officer unions that have more stable workforces. The others were what Captains’ Endowment Association President Roy Richter, who chairs the coalition, described as the Mayor “acknowledging the special contribution they make to the City of New York” by providing the extra 1-percent raise beyond the civilian pattern, and the terminal-leave provision, which Correction Captains’ Association head Patrick Ferraiuolo called “a home-run” for uniformed workers.

City Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn was somewhat less effusive but clearly gratified at having reached the deal. He declined comment as to what impact it would have in fortifying the city’s position in the PBA arbitration, but said in a phone interview Dec. 12, “This is a very important settlement, and we are very pleased to have reached it with eight very important unions.”

Conspicuously absent from the group was the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association, whose president, Edward D. Mullins, has been harshly critical of Mayor de Blasio on other matters. He has described their talks as stalled, and given the personal animosity between the two men, it seems unlikely the SBA would reach contract terms before the PBA arbitration was decided, which would probably not be until at least the middle of next year.

Waiting on Hearing Dates

An arbitration panel was selected in the first week of November, but a spokesman for PBA President Patrick J. Lynch, Al O’Leary, said the day after the coalition deal was reached that no hearing dates had yet been scheduled.

Mr. Lynch made clear from the time the first city deal was reached with the United Federation of Teachers on May 1 that he considered the structure of that pattern inadequate, and specifically objected to the fact that, after providing two 4-percent raises that most other unions had received as far back as 2007 under Mayor Bloomberg, the remainder of the UFT deal began with a wage freeze in its first year.

The uniformed-coalition deal, unlike the civilian accords, would grant a 1-percent hike in its first year, but it wouldn’t take effect until after the 11th month of the pact. Mr. O’Leary cited the delayed implementation in explaining Mr. Lynch’s disdain for the terms, saying, “Zeroes aren’t acceptable, and we consider it a zero.”

Unions Covered

That view was not shared by the coalition members, which also include the Detectives’ Endowment Association and Lieutenants’ Benevolent Association from the NYPD, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, the Assistant Deputy Wardens/Deputy Wardens Association, and the Sanitation Officers Association and the Uniformed Sanitation Chiefs Association.

Because of the varying expiration dates for each of the unions, the tentative terms would be retroactive to either 2011 or 2012. The 11-percent raises each would provide over the seven-year period would slightly exceed 13 percent once compounding was factored in. The first 1-percent raise would take effect on the first day of the 12th month of each deal, with additional 1-percent increases to be provided on the first day of the pacts’ 19th, 31st and 43rd months. Twelve months after that, a raise of 1.5 percent would be granted, with raises of 2.5 percent and 3 percent then provided at one-year intervals.

Cites Civilian Pattern

“Certainly it will not keep pace with the cost of living,” UFOA President Jake Lemonda said. “But there’s a civilian pattern out there that does not keep pace, and we had to structure a contract with that in mind.”

He and other uniformed-union leaders in the coalition were unwilling to take their chances on the PBA being able to convince arbitrators to deviate from the basic pattern, despite its success in doing so on three separate occasions during the past 12 years, because of problems created by those “better” deals.

The sharpest departure came in 2005, when a PBA panel created through the state Public Employment Relations Board largely disregarded a pattern established by the Bloomberg administration with District Council 37 that began with a one-year wage freeze and then provided two 3-percent raises.

It instead awarded two 5-percent raises under a two-year contract, the maximum length for an arbitration award unless both parties agreed to extend its duration. To reduce the city’s costs, however, the panel ordered severe givebacks affecting new hires, from a sharp reduction in starting salary to a significant slowing of the progression to top pay.

‘Cannibalized Ourselves’

In its bargaining with the superior-officer unions, the city insisted on similar changes covering those promoted into higher ranks, and because there is less turnover in those ranks demanded even sharper proportional reductions in rungs on the pay ladder. The sour taste that and previous attrition-based PBA deals had left convinced coalition leaders it was in their best interests not to try to piggyback on a PBA award this time.

As Mr. Lemonda put it, “Some of these PERB decisions have created problems for many unions that inflicted a lot of pain.”

Mr. Richter was more graphic, saying, “We’ve had to cannibalize ourselves” to match the benefit gains at the expense of those not yet promoted. “That’s not in our interest. I’m very happy that I’m not involved in the PBA arbitration.”

There is no reopener clause under the coalition deal that would allow the unions to seek higher raises if those gained by the PBA exceed the pattern. But Mr. Richter said, “I think my members are going to see [this pact] as a good, fair deal.”

‘Terminal’ Change Key

One of the biggest selling points, he, Mr. Lemonda and Mr. Ferraiuolo agreed, is the financial advantage that would be created by the change in terminal-leave regulations.

Mr. Linn noted that the affected workers are entitled to a month of terminal-leave pay for every 10 years they spend in uniformed service, and there is no cap on the amount that they can accrue. But at present when uniformed workers decide to retire, they must exhaust their accrued terminal leave before they go off their agency payrolls.

Former Uniformed Firefighters Association President James J. Boyle said that this requirement had led many Firefighters to waive their terminal-leave pay because collecting it had the effect of reducing their pension provisions. The period in which they were no longer actually working but remained on the payroll, he explained, was counted toward the three-year period for which final average salary determined their pension allowances. Although the terminal-leave periods added a minimum of two months to their service time that figured into the pension payments, because the payment for that period came at straight time, those with sizable amounts of overtime toward the end of their careers would actually see their pension allowances reduced because that period was included.

‘They’ll Be Very Happy’

Being able to avoid such reductions under the provision that would allow affected workers to leave the payroll on their planned retirement dates and collect the terminal leave in a lump sum is something Mr. Ferraiuolo said Correction Captains “are going to be very happy about...I can go with confidence to my members and tell them this is the best deal I could have achieved.”

Mr. Richter contended that the change was in the city’s interest as well, because uniformed workers currently remain on the agency payroll while they run out their leave time. “The city benefits because they don’t have to pay two people to sit in that seat at the same time,” he said, assuming the pacts are ratified.

The additional cost to the city of this benefit is expected to delay the ratification schedules for each union as it is determined how much each union may have to give up to keep the basic pattern intact. A press release issued by Mayor de Blasio said the estimated cost is .6 percent of salary, with part of that offset by the unions not seeking the $1,000 ratification bonus provided under the civilian contracts, and the uniformed unions being required to produce .36 percent in additional savings from a menu of options.

Meeting on Formula

Mr. Lemonda said that the UFOA hoped to meet with Mr. Linn sometime this week to work out a formula for producing the savings, after which its ratification meeting could be scheduled. A similar process figures to be used by the other coalition members.

If the deals were ratified, it would mean that 71 percent of the municipal workforce was under contract, with all of those deals stretching into 2017 or beyond. The key exceptions at this point are the PBA, the SBA, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, four locals of the Communications Workers of America, and School Custodians Local 891 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

When he appointed Mr. Linn last Dec. 31, the Mayor said he had asked him to have 50 percent of the city workforce under contract within a year, despite the complications created by Mayor Michael Bloomberg not having negotiated any wage deals during his final term in office, leaving most unions working at least 3½ years under expired pacts.