The New York Times

September 5, 2002

Arbitration Panel Gives 11.7% Raises to City's Officers


Astate arbitration panel has awarded the city's 24,000 police officers raises totaling 11.75 percent for the last two years, ending a bitter and protracted contract dispute between a dispirited force that felt it deserved more for its sacrifices and a city that said it could afford no large increases.

Union officials hailed the award, even though the raises were far less than the 21.9 percent increase they had sought. They said it was significant because the award, for the first time in 25 years, breaks the tradition of pattern bargaining, under which the city negotiates virtually the same pay raises with all its unions.

But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg disputed that interpretation and derided the award, even though the raise was less than one he had supported. He had favored a pact with 14 percent raises tied to a productivity change. He criticized the union and the arbitrators for blocking that change, which would have cut the workday by 20 minutes in return for 10 more workdays a year.

The raises are retroactive to the period covered by the long-delayed contract, from July 2000 to July of this year, and the officers will receive lump-sum payments for two years of missed raises, including overtime. The union and the city will have to begin bargaining again almost immediately for a contract to cover the years going forward.

The union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, has argued that the heroism of the officers who responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and their work in pushing crime to historic lows entitled them to far more than the pattern raises. Police union leaders said yesterday that although they did not get as much as they wanted they had won more than other uniformed services.

Mr. Bloomberg called the award a "terrible idea" and said it did not break the pattern. Mayoral aides later suggested that the structure of the contract — and the next pact — ultimately could leave the officers with the same raises won by other uniformed workers over the longer contracts — 30 months — negotiated with most of the other unions.

"The P.B.A. is going to get to the penny what Rudolph Giuliani offered them well over a year ago," Mr. Bloomberg said. "They will have lost, at great expense, the opportunity to do better than the pattern."

But Patrick J. Lynch, the union president, said that the city's last offer at the bargaining table was just 5 percent over two years and he argued that the city — both the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations — had refused to negotiate. That drove the union to fight to have its contract dispute heard by the three arbitrators impaneled by the State Public Employment Relations Board. "There is huge significance in this award," Mr. Lynch said. "There are no givebacks, and for the first time we broke the pattern."

Before the award, the starting salary for city police officers was $31,305, far less then their suburban counterparts and 20 percent less than officers in Newark. Their top base pay after 20 years was $49,023. The city's new officers will start at $34,514, and after 20 years their top base pay will be $54,048. City officers have been working without a contract since July 31, 2000.

When negotiations for the current contract began in 2000, the gap between the city and the union was so wide that the union decided to gamble on binding arbitration. After the union pushed legislation through Albany and won a protracted battle, the state's highest court granted the union's request to take its case to the state board.

In its decision, the board awarded police officers a 5 percent raise in the first year of the contract — retroactive to July 31, 2000 — and 5 percent in the second year. The ruling also included a 1.5 percent discretionary fund, not compounded, to be distributed as of July 31, the contract's last day, for longevity increases or other uses. Raises will average 11.75 percent for each officer.

Mr. Bloomberg said he did not understand why the union passed up bigger raises by refusing to accept the 10 additional workdays, an option that seemed clearly outlandish to many police officers. He said that future raises for city workers could only come from such arrangements.

Last month, the mayor announced on his weekly radio show that the panel had produced a draft that called for raises of 14 percent over two years. Under that plan, the union would have received 5 percent for each year, with an additional 4 percent in return for shorter shifts and 10 fewer days off.

But that proposal enraged police officers, who along with firefighters held a raucous rally in Times Square on Aug. 15. There, Mr. Lynch lashed out at the mayor and told a crowd of about 10,000 that Mr. Bloomberg had forgotten their sacrifices on Sept. 11.

The three-member panel later decided to resume its deliberations and met again on Tuesday and yesterday. The panel is made up of an arbitrator chosen by the city, one by the union and one selected by the two sides together. An award requires the signatures of two of the three arbitrators.

The early draft was apparently produced by the board member chosen by both sides, Dana Eischen, an Ithaca, N.Y., lawyer, but he did not sign it, although the city's representative, Gary D'Alaberson, did. The award announced yesterday was signed by both Mr. Eischen and the union's representative, Ronald Dunn, union and city officials said.

Yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg seemed puzzled by Mr. Eischen's decision. "I don't know what got him to change his mind, but whoever he listened to gave him terrible advice," he said, adding that "police officers are going to come out with less and the public is going to get less, and it should not have come out this way."