Chief-Leader
May 22, 2015 3:45 pm

 

Lynch Hopes Past Gains Outweigh Uncertainties

Unresolved Pact, Disability Fight

By MARK TOOR

   
The Chief-Leader/Michel Friang  
A BATTLE-TESTED LEADER: Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch argues that he should be re-elected based on ‘the experience that we bring to the table after 16 years—I mean fight upon fight upon fight for 16 years—and the successes that we’ve had.’  

If Patrick J. Lynch had a favorite number, it would be 56. That’s the percentage by which pay for incumbent Police Officers rose during his first 10 years as president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

A 5-Year Drought

The PBA’s most recent contract expired in 2010—year 11 of his tenure—when the economy was in the doldrums, the city had no money to spare and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg was demanding givebacks to offset the cost of any raises. The union’s 22,000 active members are a big chunk of the 20 percent of city employees who have not yet settled with Mayor de Blasio.

That the union has gone five years without a contract has been a campaign issue for Mr. Lynch’s two opponents for his election to a fifth term. Ballots were mailed last week and are scheduled to be counted by the American Arbitration Association June 5.

Rivals Fault Him

Brooklyn South Trustee Brian Fusco and Bus Unit Delegate Ronald Wilson say the PBA president should have reached a deal long ago.

“Not one city union settled their contract during Bloomberg’s last term,” Mr. Lynch noted in an interview last week.

The PBA has refused to accept the city’s pattern of 10 percent for civilian workers and 11 percent for uniformed workers, both over a seven-year period. The union is currently in binding arbitration, with oral arguments scheduled to continue for nearly two weeks after the union’s elections.

One for the Pattern

The Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association last week became the first nonsupervisory uniformed union to settle with the city, conforming with the pattern. Labor experts say that will make it harder for the PBA to persuade arbitrators that it deserves to win more-generous raises that will bring it closer to other police departments in the area.

“New York City officers deserve a market rate of pay,” Mr. Lynch said, noting that his members are still making 18 percent less than those other departments. “With PERB, we have a better chance of getting that market rate of pay...The pattern puts us below market rate of pay.” At this point, he said, the city can afford a decent contract.

He said he’s reached contracts through both negotiation and arbitration. He contended he should be re-elected based on “the experience that we bring to the table after 16 years—I mean fight upon fight upon fight for 16 years—and the successes that we’ve had.”

Mr. Lynch also talked about his conflicts with Mr. de Blasio, which flared in December but been more-subdued lately.

‘Speak for Members’

“My mission and my job is to speak for the members, to speak using their thoughts and beliefs,” he said. At the time Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were murdered in December in the wake of the controversy over a grand jury’s refusal to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, Mr. Lynch said, his statements “were criticized by many editorials. Not by our members. I was speaking exactly what they thought was true.”

“What was happening at the time was a negative atmosphere on the streets was being churned up by elected officials,” he continued. “Folks are now very careful about what they say...when it was negative it turned every interaction with the public into a confrontation.”

Mr. de Blasio and other elected officials have moderated their rhetoric, supporting various police initiatives such as arrests of protesters who blocked traffic during protests over the death of an unarmed black man in police custody in Baltimore.

But Mr. Lynch dismissed any talk of a previous war between police and elected officials, saying, “There’s a natural friction between labor and management.” He noted he had conflicts with Mr. Bloomberg and Mayor Rudy Giuliani as well.

When Mr. Lynch and his reform-minded slate took office in mid-1999, the union was insulated, even from its members, he said. The front door to the office was locked, and the receptionist was protected by a Plexiglas barrier. “The first thing we did was take that down and unlock the door,” he said. “Now it’s open-door. You can just walk in and walk down the hall and see me or any Trustee.”

A Crisis of Confidence

The administration that preceded him was tainted by a scandal involving its outside lawyers, who went to prison over corruption involving another client, the now-defunct Transit Police Benevolent Association, and its association with “zeroes for heroes,” a five-year contract handed up by an arbitration panel in 1997 that began with a two-year pay freeze, although cops had driven crime down sharply.

Mr. Lynch said that when he took over, the union had little influence in the news media, the City Council and the State Legislature, and he has worked on building that up.

He cited a number of legislative victories that resulted, including the Pension Protection Bill, which prevents officers from losing their pensions if they are fired after 20 years, unless they are convicted of a felony.

Two more successes involved the Variable Supplements Fund, which pays retired officers $12,000 a year. Previously, officers who worked past 20 years could not collect VSF payments until they retired. Now, after 20 years the VSF payment is banked for each year of continued service and paid out to officers upon retirement, a change initiated by the Bloomberg administration to retain more-experienced cops and firefighters in the aftermath of 9/11.

Headed Off VSF Raid

Secondly, the PBA helped beat back efforts by Mr. Bloomberg to persuade the State Legislature to end the VSF payments, which he referred to as a “Christmas bonus.” The money actually comes from excess earnings on stock-market investments the police and fire unions allowed the city to make beginning in 1970. “We stepped in very publicly and stopped that assault on our pensions,” the PBA leader said.

Officers used to be restricted to their homes 24 hours a day when sick, he pointed out, but they are now allowed to leave once their scheduled tour of duty is over without threat of disciplinary action.

He cited the ongoing problem of “frivolous lawsuits” against cops, which the city often settles for relatively small sums to avoid the expense of a trial. Even groundless lawsuits can damage an officer’s career, Mr. Lynch said, and he expressed satisfaction that the city is looking into the problem.

Another issue he is working on solving is the lesser disability benefit provided to cops hired after 2009, when then-Gov. David Paterson abruptly vetoed a bill routinely passed since 1976, that had allowed new cops to receive full Tier 2 pension coverage, which provided three-quarters’ pay free of state or local taxes to those who are permanently disabled by job-related injuries or illnesses.

Because of that veto, officers hired since 2010 have been under Tier 3, which allows half-pay disability pensions subject to all taxes and with the amount of Social Security disability payments deducted. Advocates say that could leave officers with as little as $27 a day.

2 Sons in Tier 3

Mr. Lynch feels the problem personally. “I have two sons on the job, both in Tier 3,” he said.

He said the city has a moral obligation to take care of officers if they are injured on the job. It also has an obligation to take care of them equally, he said. “Two police officers in the same radio car should be treated exactly the same,” he said. The PBA has opposed a proposal by Mr. de Blasio to replace the Tier 3 provisions with new ones that would pay better but not as much as Tier 2.

Mr. Fusco and Mr. Wilson have also criticized Mr. Lynch on the disability issue.