The New York Times

August 16, 2001

Mediator Is Appointed for Police Contract Talks


The State Public Employment Relations Board appointed a mediator yesterday to try to push forward the deadlocked contract talks between New York City and its largest police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

The board appointed Alan R. Viani to mediate the talks in what could be a preliminary step toward naming a binding arbitration panel that could, under state law, order a settlement for the city and the 27,000-member police union.

Mr. Viani was the director of negotiations for District Council 37, the giant municipal union, in the 1970's, and has worked much of the last 15 years as a mediator and specialist in dispute resolution.

His appointment came after the board's director of conciliation, Richard A. Curreri, declared an impasse in the talks.

For months, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani had sought to avoid a declaration of impasse. But union officials have been eager for the state to set up an arbitration panel, which would be established if mediation fails. The panel could compare city police salaries with the far higher ones in the suburbs to determine a settlement.

Patrick Lynch, the union president, said appointing a mediator was "a first step in moving us closer to the day when our members get the salary increase they deserve, and at the same time helps the city solve the recruitment and retention crisis it doesn't seem to want to face."

The union is seeking raises of more than 20 percent over two years, while Mr. Giuliani has offered a 2.5 percent pay increase in the first year and 3 percent in the second year. Because many officers are leaving for higher-paying police jobs in the suburbs, the union has argued that a large raise is needed to make it easier for the city to recruit and retain police officers.

The city has gone to court in an effort to keep the Public Employment Relations Board from being involved in the police contract dispute. Fearing that the board's arbitrators will order too generous a settlement, the Giuliani administration has argued that the State Legislature acted unconstitutionally in giving the state board, rather than the city's Office of Collective Bargaining, the power to mediate and arbitrate contract disputes involving the city's poice union.

In April, Justice Bernard Malone Jr. of State Supreme Court in Albany rejected the city's argument and ruled that the Legislature had the power to let the state board arbitrate the dispute.

On July 12, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court upheld that decision.

Since that time, the city has appealed to the Court of Appeals, and the city and the police union have held two negotiating sessions.