August 11, 2004

Fire, police unions say talks stalled


The firefighters union said yesterday it wants to go to arbitration quickly because its negotiations with the city on a new contract have been fruitless.

However, the Bloomberg administration gave no indication it would agree, meaning the current contract impasse could continue for the foreseeable future.

The city police union has already sought the intervention of a mediator in its contract dispute, the first step in a lengthy process that could end up with the appointment of an arbitration panel.

The continuing dispute means that people coming for the Republican National Convention at the end of the month can expect protests by off-duty police, firefighters and other city workers.

Off-duty police and firefighters have begun popping up at public appearances by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in recent days to demand he make them a better offer.

The mayor's chief spokesman, Edward Skyler, repeated the administration position yesterday: that an earlier agreement with some civilians union will be the pattern for all unions.

That deal was first reached with District Council 37, the largest municipal union, and called for pay raises of 5 percent over three years and a $1,000 signing bonus.

The council and its locals have some of the lowest-paid employees in the city work force, and the $1,000 bonus was seen by some other unions as the equivalent of a cash bribe to cash-strapped workers.

Yesterday, Skyler said both the police and fire unions had been offered raises of up to 8 percent in return for concessions.

Skyler did not elaborate, but proposals the city had broached earlier would require police officers to work more days a year, have firefighters change work hours and accept other changes that the unions call "givebacks" and the mayor calls "productivity."

The public comments by the police and unions leaders have sharpened as the impasse drags on, with some of them refusing to rule out an illegal strike or other unspecified actions.

"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.

Both unions have been without a contract for more than two years, not unusual in municipal labor history, meaning that even if they reach new three-year agreements, they will expire by next summer — just as Bloomberg is running for re-election.