Chief-Leader
November 30, 2015 5:45 pm

 

Braced by PBA Reality, UFA Delegates OK Deal

Pact Goes to Rank and File

By RICHARD STEIER 

    
STEVE CASSIDY: Patience paid off.  

Just a couple of months after their leadership postponed the vote on a tentative wage contract because of concerns expressed about a looming police-union arbitration, Uniformed Firefighters Association delegates Nov. 30 overwhelmingly approved the seven-year deal by a count of 254-115.

That action cleared the way for the final phase of the union ratification process: ballots are being mailed Dec. 10 to the UFA rank and file for a final vote that will be tallied Dec. 22.

Not About the Raises

Union President Steve Cassidy said in a phone interview shortly after the vote was concluded that while he was happy that more than 68 percent of the delegates had approved the deal, “There were still a lot of people unhappy with the numbers—the 11-percent [raises] over seven years. I understand that—I’m not happy with the wage increases; we deserve more. But I understand pattern bargaining,” referring to the deals previously reached by most other uniformed unions, including the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, containing those same basics.

He added, “I’m personally happy with our deal, given all the extras we got.”

In particular, he was referring to an agreement by the city to restore a fifth Firefighter at 20 engine companies that came with a guarantee on staffing that will preserve the same number for all Ladder Company crews, language he said no other fire union in the nation had as part of its contract.

‘The Most-Important Thing’

“That was the most-important thing,” Mr. Cassidy said, while also citing the city’s support for legislation that would entitle newer Firefighters to the same disability-pension benefit as their more-senior colleagues.

At the time the deal was reached in early August, the UFA leader said that his reservations about the wage package had been overcome by gains in areas like these that he considered “unimaginable” when the negotiations began last year.

Would Restore 75% Pension

That might have been particularly true regarding an assurance of the de Blasio administration’s support for a bill that would give Firefighters hired after 2009 the same disability pension equal to 75 percent of final average salary, tax-free, that more-senior colleagues get for an on-the-job injury that leaves them unable to return to work. The UFA leader had labored mightily over the past two state legislative sessions, this spring winning the support of both Governor Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, for such a bill, only to have it blocked by the opposition of the Mayor, who called the proposal too expensive.

Mr. Cassidy had accused Mr. de Blasio of being short-sighted and hypocritical, no­ting that the inferior disability-pension right newer Firefighters were stuck with after then-Gov. David Paterson’s 2009 veto of a traditional Tier 2 extender bill had the practical effect of forcing disabled members to stay long-term in desk jobs because they couldn’t afford to retire. Over the course of the bargaining, the hard feelings dissipated when the city pledged to back a bolstered benefit—virtually assuring its passage in the legislative session that begins in January—in return for the union’s agreeing to have newer members contribute 6 percent of their salary, rather than the current 3 percent.

20 Engines to Add Staff

The administration also agreed to add a fifth Firefighter at the busiest 20 engine companies, allowing the union to recoup some of the staffing it lost four years ago, when the Bloomberg administration eliminated the position at 60 engine companies. The door had been opened for the cut in staffing 26 years ago, ironically, after UFA delegates rejected a wage contract that imposed concessions in other areas, allowing the city to eliminate longtime staffing guarantees that were deemed to be non-mandatory subjects of bargaining, thus excluding them from the arbitration award. Mr. Cassidy noted that regaining those positions was particularly important at a time when the trend in the public sector has been to reduce staffing for cost reasons.

If the UFA rank and file gives final approval to the deal, which would be retroactive to Aug. 1, 2010, it would trigger implementation of the first 5.5 percent of raises payable in the opening five years of the deal. Those who have been on the job going back to the beginning of that pact would figure to receive back pay of roughly $15,000.

Feared PBA Leap-Frog

Delegates prior to the originally-scheduled Sept. 23 vote had been uneasy about the possibility that the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association might wind up getting an arbitration award with raises significantly above those negotiated by the UFA and most other uniformed unions, prompting Mr. Cassidy to postpone the vote rather than risk the tentative pact’s rejection.

Once the arbitration panel limited Police Officers’ raises to just 1 percent in each of two years, which was consistent with what the other unions got in the first two years of their longer deals, approval of the UFA terms by delegates was virtually assured.