The New York Times

August 16, 2002

Police Rally for Pay Increases

bout 10,000 firefighters and police officers crowded into Times Square yesterday to demand larger raises from the Bloomberg administration, which they said had forgotten the sacrifices they made rushing to fires, cutting crime and responding to the horrors of Sept. 11.

Firefighters far outnumbered police officers at the carefully orchestrated noon rally, which was organized by the police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. The embittered, frustrated throng of mostly men stretched five blocks down Broadway from West 42nd Street in the scorching sun.

Surrounded by hundreds of police supervisors who helped patrol the peaceful but raucous rally, they listened behind barricades to union leaders, politicians and celebrities who spoke of how two forces, known nationally as New York's Bravest and New York's Finest, were instead now functioning as New York's Poorest. Many brought their wives and children and carried signs complaining about miserly pay.

Several times breaking into chants of "Strike! Strike!" and "Shut It Down!" the crowd reflected the anger and disbelief of many speakers, who charged that the city had failed to reward them for their work and sacrifice. While some union officials have talked privately about a strike, which could land union leaders in jail and officers suspended, others say a work slowdown is more likely.

Union officials estimated the crowd to be at 15,000, while police officials said the rally was attended by between 8,000 and 10,000 people.

Images of the speakers on stage were projected onto two giant television screens, as about a dozen union leaders and others — from "The Sopranos" actor James Gandolfini to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton — urged the city to pay the men and women more. Mrs. Clinton, who began her remarks to a rumble of boos, won some cheers with her insistence that firefighters and police officers had earned a large pay increase.

Invoking the sacrifices of Sept. 11, P.B.A. President Patrick Lynch blamed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg personally for the dispute. He characterized the mayor as an uncaring and aloof man, willing only to pay lip service to the forces that had made New York City safer.

Mr. Lynch issued a call for help to the citizens of New York. "We need your help from a system that won't help and a mayor who counts money as more important than lives," he said.

He raised the specter that crime, which has been declining for a decade, would begin to climb, with a department that has lost nearly 3,000 officers in tight fiscal times. "City Hall and City Hall alone will be responsible for the crime that will be committed," he said. "The money that will be lost, and more than anything on this great green earth, the lives, we won't be able to save."

Stephen J. Cassidy, the president of the United Firefighters Association, also lashed out. "I'm tired of politicians coming to our funerals and telling the widows how sorry they are," he said. "I'm tired of hearing that there is no more money. This is what this is about. Pay us a living wage."

Edward Skyler, Mr. Bloomberg's spokesman, did not respond directly to the criticism. "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 freedom of expression," Mr. Skyler said.

Mr. Bloomberg has said repeatedly that his good will toward the uniformed services is boundless, but the city's coffers are empty as it faces a $5 billion deficit that he has said could lead to layoffs. His sentiments are likely to be upheld by a state labor arbitration panel, which is set to rule on the contract dispute between city and cops.

The panel has not completed its work. But people who have been briefed on the talks have said that the settlement it is envisioning is closer to the raises of 5 percent and 4 percent over 24 months, which the city offered in earlier talks, than the 21 percent the P.B.A. has demanded.

While many speakers on the stage focused on Mayor Bloomberg, some in the crowd reserved their harshest comments for his predecessor, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. One firefighter, Dave Giardina from Ladder Company 170 in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, said that Mr. Giuliani had given himself and his senior staff generous pay increases, though his top achievement — bringing down crime — was won by police officers.

"When they had the money, they didn't give us a raise," he said. "That's the beef. And now it's boiling over."