December 21, 2001

State Board to Hear PBA Labor Dispute

By William Murphy STAFF WRITER

December 21, 2001

The city's major police union won a stunning victory yesterday by getting final approval to negotiate its labor disputes with the city through a state agency.

A unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals allowed the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association to take its contract dispute with the city to the state Public Employment Relations Board.

The union can now negotiate with PERB, whose three members are appointed by the governor, rather than the city-controlled Board of Collective Bargaining.

The PBA thinks it can get a better deal at PERB than other city unions got with the city, in part because the PBA wants to compare the salary of its members with those of better paid police departments in other jurisdictions.

"We are very pleased with the decision," PBA attorney Peter Fishbein said. "Obviously, the city is in a very difficult position if we go to arbitration with PERB. An arbitration could really sock the city."

Fishbein said he hoped the decision would prompt the city to reach a contract at the bargaining table rather than go to arbitration.

A spokesman for the Giuliani administration, who asked that his name not be used, said the city would work with the PBA to resolve its contract dispute. He declined to elaborate.

The PBA has been working under the terms of a contract that expired July 31, 2000, but had been battling well before that to get access to the state arbitration system.

State legislation in 1996 allowed the change, but the city got the Court of Appeals to throw out the law as unconstitutional in 1998 because it singled out the city for special treatment.

The PBA got another bill passed and signed into law, and that law was upheld by the court yesterday. The new law allows other jurisdictions to go to PERB if their unions opt to. The law includes language that makes it clear that the matter is of enough concern to the state that a home rule message from the City Council is not necessary.

The new law also applies to city firefighters, but they are in limbo with their contract. The Uniformed Firefighters Association had tentatively agreed to a contract in August, but is trying to back out of the agreement in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack and the loss of 343 firefighters.

The firefighters union is expected to vote next month on the tentative agreement, and a rejection of the pact is considered likely.