The New York Times

July 28, 2001

Contract Deal for Workers in Uniform


The Giuliani administration has agreed to a tentative contract that would give firefighters, sanitation workers and other uniformed city employees a raise of more than 10 percent over two-and-a-half years, a pact that is more generous than one recently negotiated with the city's civilian workers.

The pact with the 50,000 members of the Uniformed Forces Coalition, announced yesterday by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, signals that the city and its unions are no longer adhering to their practice of pattern bargaining, in which all the unions get roughly the same deal.

The agreement, which also covers correction officers and high-ranking police officers, still leaves open the fate of contracts for teachers and city police officers whose rank is below detective. Talks with the teachers' union have proven the most sensitive, as it has been pushing for large wage increases to counter what the union says is an exodus of teachers.

The agreement, reached Thursday night, covers a period of 30 months starting in August 2000 and provides 5 percent wage increases in each of two years, and then a 1.5 percent discretionary fund to finance specific benefits for the different unions, officials said.

The deal comes two months after District Council 37, the city's largest municipal labor union, ratified a contract that covers 27 months and provides two 4 percent increases. Union officials yesterday were careful to say that each organization had negotiated what its members needed.

Norman Seabrook, the president of the correction officers' union and the coalition's chairman, said that he had hoped the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents police officers, would join his organization in unified bargaining. But he said that Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the P.B.A., "feels that he has the best agenda for his members, and God bless him for that."

Negotiations between the Giuliani administration and the police union have been at a standstill. The P.B.A. has asked the state Public Employment Relations Board, known as PERB, to declare an impasse and begin to mediate the dispute, but the city has continued to challenge that body's jurisdiction over the negotiations.

Labor officials said yesterday that the agreement could hurt the P.B.A. before the state board, because its fellow unions had already settled for an amount below the 39 percent increase over two years that it is seeking.

But Robert Linn, the chief negotiator for the P.B.A., rejected that view, saying that the other unions could not establish that their members were as underpaid as police officers.

And Mr. Lynch said, "The P.B.A. expects that, either at the bargaining table or through the PERB arbitration process, New York City police officers will achieve fair compensation that addresses the crucial recruitment and retention crisis."

The agreement, which the mayor said would cost the city $100 million to $150 million more than the current budget allows, comes at a time when the administration is facing the possibility of receiving $200 million to $300 million less in state aid than expected and at a time when the economy is slowing.

Fiscal monitors and observers said yesterday that the city could face difficulties if the P.B.A. did win a higher settlement because the other unions might well come back to the bargaining table next time with greater demands.

In announcing the deal, the mayor said that the city would institute $500 million in spending reductions and revenue enhancements to cover the cost of the agreement and to make up for an anticipated shortfall in state aid. The administration will send out letters next week asking the city's uniformed agencies to reduce their budgets by 4 percent and the other agencies to reduce theirs by 8 percent, but will not seek cuts from the Board of Education, said Adam L. Barsky, director of the city's office of management and budget.

Mr. Giuliani said that it was appropriate to pay the uniformed employees more than the civilians because they risked their lives and had been key to the city's turnaround. And he said that the budget program would allow the city to afford the labor agreement without leaving the next mayor in a fiscal bind.

"We're going to go ahead and we're going to save a lot more money than this program actually costs us," he said.

Mr. Giuliani, who has made merit pay a signature issue in his negotiations with the city's unions, said that he was pleased the administration had been able to get the "merit language that was so important to us" into the contract.

But union leaders played down the provision, with leaders of the police union covered in the new pact saying that there is already a form of merit pay in the department, known as special assignment money, that is given out in a discretionary manner to employees above the rank of officer. Officials at District Council 37 have also maintained that their merit pay agreement simply codified what was already in practice.

Mr. Seabrook said that the contract would be ratified by the members within about two weeks. If the contract is approved, he said, it would expire in the beginning of 2003.

"In no time at all," he said, "we'll be back in here negotiating a contract with the next mayor of the city of New York, and the coalition will stick together and we will try to obtain the best for them at that time."