The New York Times

September 5, 2002


They'll Take It


Last year, New York City's main police union was fuming when former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani rejected its demand for a 21.9 percent raise to catch up with police salaries in Newark and many suburbs.

But yesterday, union leaders had an unexpected reaction to an arbitration award that gave raises of only about half what the police union had sought. They applauded.

And in another suprise twist, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg voiced keen disappointment at the arbitration award, even though it awarded less than the city had favored.

The award, after months of deliberation by a three-member arbitration panel, gives the city's 24,000 police officers an 11.75 percent pay increase over 24 months.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, praised the award because it granted the union more generous terms than the contract pattern the city had established in its deals with other unions.

"Obviously it's not all the money that we deserve as police officers," Mr. Lynch said. "We deserve substantially more. But there is huge significance in this award. There are no givebacks, and for the first time we broke the pattern."

Mayor Bloomberg said the arbitration ruling was regrettable because it did not call for additional productivity by the police, something the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations had sought from every municipal union.

Specifically, Mr. Bloomberg criticized the arbitration panel for casting aside a draft decision that would have required police officers to work 10 additional tours a year in exchange for shorter workdays and a raise of nearly 14 percent. The chairman of the arbitration panel discarded that draft ruling after the union had attacked it, saying the idea of working extra tours was an outrage.

The administration had hoped that the police would imitate the teachers' union, which, in exchange for a longer school day, received a raise of 6 percent more than the pattern accepted by other unions. That gave the 80,000 teachers raises of at least 16 percent over 30 months.

"It appears that the arbitrator is going to miss the opportunity to get the police officers more money than what the city's pattern has been," Mr. Bloomberg said. "We fortunately worked out something from the teachers, where in return for enhanced productivity they got more than the pattern."

For the Citizens Budget Commission, a business-backed watchdog group that has urged City Hall to create a more efficient municipal work force, the arbitration ruling was a disappointment. "It would have been a milestone for the city to get increased productivity," said Diana Fortuna, the group's president. "This is a definite setback."

Undoubtedly the most important behind-the-scenes force in the pay dispute was the city's $5 billion deficit. That forced the union to lower its sights and, labor experts said, made an arbitration award of 11.75 percent more palatable. The ruling calls for a 5 percent raise in the first year, 5 percent in the second year, and a 1.5 percent increase on the final day of the 24-month contract.

Convinced that it would not get far with Mayor Giuliani, the union concluded that it would receive a better deal from a state arbitration panel. The union chose arbitration before the Sept. 11 attack devastated the city's budget.

"The striking thing is that their extended campaign for comparable pay and their heroic stature resulting from 9/11 have turned to remarkably little," said Joshua Freeman, a labor historian at Queens College. "Conditions got worse rather than better, and in that sense, their strategy, for reasons they couldn't have anticipated, failed."

Yesterday, union officials sought to trumpet the ruling as a victory, because the police will get an 11.75 percent raise over 24 months, while other uniformed unions, including the corrections and sanitation workers, agreed to 11.75 percent over 30 months. Union officials said that in future bargaining they expected to receive at least 2 percent for the additional six months, which would put the police raises above those received by other uniformed unions.

But City Hall officials said the police should not assume they would receive more over 30 months than have other unions. Noting that many unions have agreed to pay freezes in the last decade, officials said the police might have to accept a pay freeze of six months or more.

Some experts urged both sides to accept the arbitrators' decision, instead of picking it apart.

"Everyone should be proud," said William Kornblum, a labor expert at City University Graduate Center, "because to the extent the parties submit to arbitration and get an award they can live with, the whole labor relations process advances."