The New York Times

March 19, 2002

State Hearings Are Begun on New York Police Pact


Astate panel that will decide how much New York City should pay its police officers began its hearings yesterday by listening to testimony from representatives of the police union, which asserted that its members were woefully underpaid.

The hearings by the State Public Employment Relations Board represent the first time a state panel has sat in judgment on what was previously considered a local issue. But the union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, won a court case last year that upheld its right to have its contract disputes decided by binding arbitration before the state board instead of the city's Office of Collective Bargaining.

The union, which represents 24,000 police officers, has been without a contract for 20 months, and many of its members are upset that their pay now lags behind that of officers in other police departments in the region. The starting salary for officers in New York City is $31,305.

On the other hand, the city is facing a $4.7 billion budget deficit for the coming fiscal year, and has already been forced to make cuts in services and employees. City officials have said they cannot afford to give officers a raise beyond the contract that has been offered, which calls for a 10 percent raise over 30 months.

The police union is asking for a 22 percent raise over 24 months. A 1 percent raise for police officers costs the city $15 million a year, city officials have said.

"We have fallen so far behind these other jurisdictions," said Patrick Lynch, the union's president, during a break in the hearings, which are being held at the Park Avenue law offices of Kaye Scholer, one of the union's law firms. "That's why these jurisdictions are using the New York Police Department as a recruiting grounds."

Earlier this month, 72 officers left the city to take police jobs with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, one of nine nearby agencies that, according to the union's statistics, pay their officers more than New York City does.

"The mayor wants to support our police officers any way possible," said Edward Skyler, a spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "But the fact is that the city is facing a $5 billion budget deficit and the current offer is all we can afford."

At the hearing, the three members of the panel sat in the middle of a 19th-floor conference room, flanked by 20 or so representatives from each of the two opposing parties, who faced one another at row after row of long tables like troops in battle formation.

The panel is scheduled to hold hearings in April and May before rendering its decision. At any point in the hearings, if the two sides reach a negotiated settlement, the panel's deliberations will become moot.

"But I don't think that will happen," Mr. Lynch said.

The panel hearings are closed to the public and the news media at the request of the city, which told the board that it thought that publicity would hinder the process of reaching agreement on a new contract. It would be retroactive to July 2000.