New York Daily News

August 16, 2002

Police rally for pay raises

Thousands protest near Times Square

By MICHELE McPHEE and MIKE CLAFFEY
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

   
An anti-management inflated rat sits on Broadway as NYC's Finest and Bravest take to the streets in demand of higher pay.
Grieving mom Sally Regenhard, who lost son in Trade Center attacks, shows her support for the cause.
'Sopranos' star James Gandolfini shakes hands with PBA President Pat Lynch.

Thousands of cops and firefighters turned up the heat on City Hall yesterday, demanding a pay hike to match the sacrifices they made reducing crime and responding to the terrorist attack on 9/11.

Some 15,000 demonstrators flooded Broadway south of 42nd St. to hear Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch predict "doom" for the NYPD unless the city meets his union's demand for a 23% raise.

PBA members - whose contract expired July 31, 2000 - are upset over recent reports that a state arbitration panel might sign off on a two-year contract for much less that could include an increase in work days.

Lynch ratcheted up the rhetoric in front of the seething, sweltering crowd and blasted Mayor Bloomberg as someone "who counts money as more important than lives."

Bloomberg weathered the barbs without responding in kind, as City Hall officials privately insisted that no further negotiations were planned. They said the city and the union would have to abide by the ruling by the Public Employment Relations Board.

"We have the best police officers and firefighters in the world, and the mayor has no problem with them peacefully exercising their First Amendment right to free speech," said spokesman Ed Skyler.

"We're willing to talk, but the city is not," said PBA spokesman Al O'Leary.

Politicians, including Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), labor leaders and celebrities joined cops, firefighters and their families at the lunchtime rally.

Actor James Gandolfini, star of TV's "The Sopranos," made a brief speech backing the pay demands. Even a group of Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, who have their own labor troubles, appeared on the stage.

"Everybody ought to support a raise for you gentlemen, because we need you," said Gandolfini.

Hundreds of uniformed officers were also on hand to control the crowd, which extended down to 35th St. and broke up peacefully after about two hours.

"You can't support a family on what we're paid, and that has to change," said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy.

Clinton was greeted by scattered boos but got cheers when she said it was "unconscionable" to deny fair raises to cops and firefighters in the wake of Sept. 11.

The Times Square rally was hastily organized by police union leaders in response to mounting anger from cops over word that the employment board will dictate contract terms far short of union demands.

City and union officials said yesterday that a draft released by the arbitrators Monday called for cops to get raises of 5% and 5% over two years, plus an additional 3-1/2% paid for by requiring officers to work 10 extra days.

The union sued to win the right to go to arbitration, believing it would get a better deal. It told the board its members needed the 23% pay hike to put the NYPD on par with other major police departments and to stem an exodus from the department.

Rookie cops in NYPD make $31,305, with their salary rising to $49,023 after five years.

Union sources said the topic of extra tours of duty never came up in more than 75 hours of arbitration hearings.

An angry Lynch declared yesterday that "the Police Department is dying from a broken heart" and laid the blame squarely at Bloomberg's feet.

"That heart is being broken by a mayor who does not care," Lynch said. "By a mayor who refuses to help us feed our families and now wants us to leave them alone 10 more times a year."

In the crowd, Queens Firefighter Bob Winterfeldt, a 19-year veteran, showed up with his three young daughters, including 5-year-old Megan, who sat on his shoulders.

"Nobody's looking to get rich here," Winterfeldt said. "But you can't even support yourself. Most firemen have second jobs because we have to get by."

With Bill Farrell, Michael Saul and Kerry Burke