August 21, 2004

Reach out and rap union

Via phone from the Olympics, the mayor assails police labor leaders for trying to keep 'cushy' jobs


Taking a harsh stance from a great distance, Mayor Michael Bloomberg bashed police-union leaders during a radio interview Friday from Greece, claiming they seek only to safeguard their "cushy" jobs.

"There's a handful of union leaders, they have these cushy jobs - they get paid by the Police Department and paid by the union - and they just don't want to lose them," he said.

Bloomberg, interviewed live by phone on WABC/770 AM, was reacting to the latest talk of potentially embarrassing actions during the GOP convention by fire and police unions locked in a contract dispute with the city.

He accused the same unnamed unionists of "leading from the back of the pack ... They sit there and they say, 'We can't control our members.' That kind of inflammatory talk is outrageous."

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch replied in a statement: "This is coming from a billionaire mayor who doesn't understand what a working person goes through who has to work a full day without a fair day's pay. It's to detract attention from his failure to negotiate in good faith and fix the problem."

The system of double-pay by union and city for municipal labor representatives stems from a common collective-bargaining agreement. It was not clear if Bloomberg has been privately pushing to abolish the double-pay labor arrangement.

Defending his bosses, PBA spokesman Joseph Mancini said they work long days and run a large organization.

Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy is paid a basic firefighter's salary plus a smaller union salary, totaling a little more than $100,000 a year, a spokesman said.

Bloomberg campaign aides got similar amounts just as bonuses, union activists recalled.

"I agree [with Lynch] it's a complete deflection of the issue," Cassidy told Newsday. "The mayor of the city of New York can defuse all these labor tensions tomorrow."

In other portions of the weekly interview, the mayor:

Gushed at how well Athens prepared for the summer Olympics and dismissed negative impressions as the fault of the media.

Maintained that his latest charter commission, which has yet to meet, may try to draft changes by Sept. 3 to put them on the November ballot.

The union said the negotiations had been deadlocked because the city kept insisting that it would not offer more than the 5 percent raise over three years that was accepted by the largest municipal union, District Council 37.

Last week, the employment relations board sent the two sides a letter telling them to select the chairman of a three-member panel by mutually agreeing on one name from the nine labor relations experts proposed by the board. Each side will choose one board member on its own.

James F. Hanley, the city's labor commissioner, said: "We're more than willing to negotiate this contract, but if arbitration is the direction the union chooses to go, then that's what we'll do as part of the process to bring this to closure. We've done this before, and we'll do it again.''

The employment relations board's executive director, James R. Edgar, said yesterday that the decision to send out the list of nine names showed that the board had concluded that the two sides had reached an impasse, and would not make progress even with a mediator.

Mr. Edgar said it would probably take months before the three-member panel issues its arbitration decision, one that state law requires the two sides to accept.

The employment relations board appointed a mediator last May after the police union said the two sides were at an impasse.

In September 2002, a state arbitration panel awarded the P.B.A. an 11.75 percent raise over 24 months, after the union had been without a contract for 25 months.

Many members of the police union and the Uniformed Firefighters Association are furious with Mr. Bloomberg because they have been without a contract for more than two years. Some uniformed officers find this especially maddening after the heroics of police and firefighters in responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. Leaders of the two unions held a news conference yesterday at the World Trade Center site, calling on President Bush to help settle the contract dispute.

For the past 10 days, members of the two unions have dogged Mr. Bloomberg wherever he goes, and the two unions have also threatened to set up picket lines during the Republican convention.

Having declared an impasse in the firefighters' talks with the city, the Public Employment Relations Board has named a mediator, Philip Maier, to help those talks advance. Officials of that board said yesterday that it was not yet time to set up an arbitration panel for the fire dispute.

Stephen Cassidy, the president of the firefighters' union, said Mr. Bloomberg could defuse the labor tensions with his union and end its demonstrations by agreeing to an accelerated arbitration process.