The New York Times

August 17, 2002


Police Raises Will Fall Short of Demands, Bloomberg Says

By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM

M ayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that he expected the city's 24,000 police officers to get a 14 percent raise over two years, less than what city teachers recently won and far less than the 21.9 percent the police union has sought in a protracted contract dispute.

Mr. Bloomberg's comments, on his weekly call-in radio program on WABC, came a day after about 10,000 angry and dispirited police officers and firefighters crowded into Times Square to press for bigger raises, invoking the sacrifices they have made in cutting crime, rushing to fires and responding to the horrors of Sept. 11. At the rally, their union leaders called Mr. Bloomberg uncaring and said the officers could not afford to raise their families on meager salaries that start at $31,305. The mayor has said he would like to pay them more, but that the city is facing a $5 billion deficit that could lead to layoffs.

Administration officials said Mr. Bloomberg's remarks about the pay increases — his first that provided specific figures — were based on a preliminary draft of a ruling by a state arbitration panel. They come after weeks of speculation on the panel's deliberations. The arbitrators' final ruling, which has not been issued, would be binding, but the union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, has filed a list of objections, and one union strategist said leaders are still hoping to win a larger raise.

The three-member panel of the state Public Employment Relations Board began hearing testimony from the union and the city in March. It is made up of one arbitrator chosen by the city, one by the union and one by both sides. The draft was prepared by the neutral arbitrator and given to city officials, one said. Approval requires the signatures of two of the three members. The city has signed the document, the official said, but the neutral arbitrator and the union's panelist, have not, the official said.

Albert O'Leary, a spokesman for the P.B.A. president, Patrick J. Lynch, said that binding arbitration still allowed for negotiations between the union and the city. But while the union was eager to talk, the city was not, he said. A 14 percent increase, less than the 16 to 22 percent raise the city's teachers won in June would seriously undermine Mr. Lynch's stewardship of the union.

The previous police contract, a 64-month pact settled during the Giuliani administration when the city was flush with cash, provided no increase at all for the first 24 months, with two raises of 3 percent and one of 6 percent over the next 41 months. The so-called double zeroes enraged officers who felt they were at the top of their game, having helped win record crime declines. The contract was followed by the election defeat of the union leadership at the time and led officials to renew efforts to have the contract dispute heard by the state panel.

On the radio program yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg repeated statements he has made many times before, saying that he is sympathetic to the officers' plight and wants to pay them more, but that "there's nothing the city can do about this."

"They're going to get 14 percent," he said, explaining that the officers will get a raise of 5 percent in the first year and 4 percent in the next. The additional 5 percent would be financed by shortening their workday slightly and by using those minutes to add 10 extra workdays each year, he said. They will work the same number of hours, he said, but come to work 10 more times a year, a plan that has angered most officers.

"That lets the police commissioner have the same number of police in the streets with fewer cops on the payroll, and the money we save we're giving all — 100 percent of it — to the cops," Mr. Bloomberg said. "So it's the best we can do. We're doing it through efficiencies. I'm trying to find other ways." While he did not say that the figures were based on a draft, aides later said he had been briefed on the document. A lawyer familiar with P.E.R.B. practices said the mayors' public statements — both sides have talked about the negotiations privately — were "highly unusual."

Mr. Bloomberg also said pointedly that the union had sought the binding arbitration before the P.E.R.B. panel because union officials had not wanted to negotiate with his administration or that of his predecessor, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

"The trouble they're having is they made a bet that the binding arbitration would give them more money then they could have gotten through negotiation," he said. "I don't know, and we'll never know, whether that is the case, but once you go to binding arbitration, you don't have a choice. You've got to accept what it is and get on with it."

The city's police officers have been working without a contract since July 31, 2000. A ruling by the P.E.R.B. panel would mark the first time the state board has sat in judgment on a city police contract. Negotiations with the city broke down in 2000, and, after a protracted battle that included pushing legislation through Albany and a lengthy lawsuit, the union, over the city's objections, won the right to have the panel hear the dispute.

Mr. O'Leary defended the decision to go to the state board, saying the Giuliani administration — which he called "all praise and no compensation" — would not negotiate in good faith. Union officials felt that P.E.R.B., which considers the pay of comparable agencies, would bring salaries into line with departments in the suburbs and Newark, where officers make 20 percent more.

But he questioned the independence of the panel, noting that the 10 additional shifts never came up during the hearings. "The chairman of the panel said he was only going to rule on issues that he heard," he said. "And for us, the P.B.A., it makes us feel, the panel may not be as impartial as was presented."

P.E.R.B. officials would not comment on the draft.