August 10, 2004

New York fire, police unions say talks at impasse

Strike during GOP convention possible

By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK -- Police and firefighters announced an impasse Tuesday in their contract negotiations with the Bloomberg administration, refusing to rule out a strike or sickouts during the Republican National Convention.

"Everyone has a limit, and the mayor needs to know we're close to our limit," said Stephen Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, at a press conference at City Hall.

For the last two weeks or so, off-duty police officers have been showing up at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's daily public appearances and picketing outside Madison Square Garden, the site of the Republican National Convention beginning Aug. 30.

Several other city unions, such as District Council 37, the city's largest, have already accepted a 5 percent raise plus $1,000 over three years with 2 percent coming from productivity enhancements such as lower pay and benefits for new hires.

A mayor's spokesman said Tuesday that the city's last offer to the police and fire unions was a $1,000 lump sum payment plus an 8 percent pay hike _ though 5 percent of the raise would come from productivity enhancements.

The police and firefighter unions said they had no intention of accepting productivity enhancements, which they denounced as "givebacks."

Police have been without a contract since July 31, 2002, and firefighters since May 31, 2002. The situation fits a pattern of retroactive contracts and negotiations that routinely ignore expiration dates and end in arbitration.

But Tuesday, the police and fire union representatives said they deserve more significant raises than other city employees. The police union declared an impasse in its negotiations with the city several weeks ago, while the firefighters said they reached the same conclusion this week.

"Mike Bloomberg says we're no different than people that push paper," said Cassidy. "That's a joke. It's a disgrace. It's an insult to the firefighters and police officers who risk their lives every day."

Bloomberg has said the city cannot afford to give significant raises to municipal unions.

"Using the DC 37 framework which has been used to reach agreements with 140,000 city employees, we have offered both unions raises of up to 8 percent with a $1,000 lump sum but about half would be funded by productivity enhancements, which both unions have balked at," said Bloomberg spokesman Ed Skyler. "In the meantime, it doesn't matter what tactics they use, the mayor isn't going to be intimidated into making a bad deal for the city."

Leaders of the police and fire unions also said they would not guarantee that they would not strike _ even though such a move is barred by law.

"We must keep in mind that the frustration level is high and we cannot count anything out in our struggle," said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.