City Hall

STATE OF THE UNIONS

February 2007

Thin Blue Bottom Line

Changes ahead for PBA, but salaries remain key, as Lynch goes for third term

By Matt Elzweig

     Patrick Lynch

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), sees his union at a “crossroads.”

He considers the tension between management and the union strictly professional and necessary for unionism to work. But his relationship with Commissioner Ray Kelly is complex—as a member of the Bloomberg administration and a veteran of the police force, Kelly is, in a way, both manager and member.

Kelly is a close ally of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R), the PBA’s sparring partner in salary and staffing debate. But though he runs the department, he is the first commissioner ever to hold every rank in the police department prior to his appointment.

The city’s police officers have not had a contract since their last one expired almost three years ago. Their basic maximum salary is far below that of their counterparts in nearby police departments. And, according to Lynch, their health benefits are under attack.

Lynch is running for a third term this spring. He is, to date, running uncontested.

Among his other concerns are bringing technology and equipment up-to-speed in stationhouses and on the street (“we’re driving around in radio cars that are falling apart,” he said), keeping staffing levels up, and continuing to make the union responsive to members.

Lynch spent 16 years as a patrolman, and for a short time as a community affairs officer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the 90th Precinct), before first being elected union president in 1999.

To him, the union was always “the mother and father,” of police officers, and workers everywhere, for that matter.

Union-negotiated salaries made it possible for him to purchase a home blocks away from the house he grew up in, in Bayside, Queens.

He was one of seven children, raised by a mother who emigrated to America from Ireland, and a father who worked for 30 years as a New York City subway motorman. His brother and uncle were also police officers.

But trends like taxing pensions and a drive by the city to replace “defined pensions” with 401k plans, which Lynch insists do not work, have him worried about the future.

As an officer, Lynch was frustrated because despite his eagerness to be active in the union, he found that the leadership was unresponsive to members.

Five years into his career he ran for delegate and won. With another delegate, he created a newsletter called Brooklyn North News, that he hoped would raise awareness about the lack of access to and communication with union executives that members had.

He hoped that by increasing awareness he could influence the leadership to change.

Encouraged by the newsletter’s popularity, he ran for president and won.

This was a time, according to Lynch, when the PBA’s image was less than pristine. Not only were his predecessors conspicuously absent from the stationhouses, their tenure was tarnished by corruption scandals to the extent that federal investigators were subpoenaing them on what Lynch remembers as “a daily basis.”

The most obvious change that needed to be made was as symbolic as it was physical. Lynch recalled his first order of business as removing a gate that blocked members from coming inside the office. It was as if the PBA needed protection from the cops, rather than the other way around, he said. The receptionist’s station was behind plexi-glass. He removed that too.

Removing the gate is symbolic in Lynch’s mind of his strong belief in giving members access to union executives. He and his staff began making regular visits to stationhouses around the city to gauge the concerns of the rank-and-file.

“If you’re not talking to the members, you don’t know what the issue is of the day. If you don’t know what the issue is of the day, you’re wasting your time fighting other issues.”

He calls a victory that resulted in the PBA’s right to have contracts heard under the auspices of the state PERB (Public Employment Relations Board), which took place during his first term, a “historic battle.” The PBA has so far been through PERB arbitration twice.

“We had to fight for every penny we received, but we broke that pattern twice,” he said. “And we’re back into that battle again, unfortunately, because the city does not want to sit down at the table and realistically negotiate for how to solve the recruitment [and] retention problem. Their form of negotiation is ‘take it or leave it.’ That’s not negotiation.”

But throughout it all, Lynch always returns to the salary issue: cops deserve raises, if only because it makes fiscal sense for the city: officers on the streets create safety, which improves neighborhoods by attracting both residents and businesses.

Everything they do, he argued, “goes to the tax base. It all comes from police officers.”

Bloomberg, he says, paid his employees at Bloomberg LP “market rate.”

Now, Lynch feels, the mayor should do the same for police officers.