The New York Times

September 6, 2002

Disappointed by Raises, Officers Praise Their Union


When city police officers faced disappointing contracts in the past, they did not hesitate to blame their union leaders. In interviews this week, after an arbitration panel awarded them 11.75 percent raises — half what the union had sought — they were again disheartened. But this time they are not blaming their leaders.

Rather, in light of their Sept. 11 sacrifices and their success in pushing crime rates lower, the officers said they felt abandoned — by the arbitration panel, by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and by the city as a whole.

Most said they supported the union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, and its president, Patrick J. Lynch, who won the job in 1998 amid widespread dissatisfaction among the rank and file. His decision to take the contract dispute to the State Public Employment Relations Board won praise, even though the result was not as successful as had been hoped.

"At least the union took some chances," said a 29-year-old officer in Midtown Manhattan who would not give his name. "They didn't stick to the old boys' network. The problem was, the cards were stacked against them."

With striking unanimity, the officers who were interviewed said they were grateful that the union had, in their view, outmaneuvered Mayor Bloomberg to defeat a proposal that the mayor had supported and the panel had considered. The proposal would have required officers to work 10 extra days a year, in return for slightly shorter shifts and larger raises of 14 percent.

"I don't think it's right that we're put in a position to have to choose between money and family," said an officer from the 78th Precinct in Brooklyn who refused to give his name.

Rank-and-file officers said they had been prepared for disappointment, adding that they never believed their union would actually win a 21.9 percent raise for the city's 24,000 police officers.

With preparations under way to honor their 23 colleagues killed at the World Trade Center, several said the timing could not be worse. Praise for heroes and the work they did on Sept. 11 rings hollow these days, they said. Many argued that the department's sacrifices on Sept. 11 justified a larger raise; others said they felt uncomfortable evoking the terrorist attack during talk of wages.

"It seems like 9/11 didn't matter at all," said Officer Vinny Gaglione, 34, shaking his head. A 16-year veteran assigned to the 123rd Precinct in Staten Island, Officer Gaglione said he suspected that details of the new contract were purposely released this week, between Labor Day and Sept. 11, so that police officers had no time to organize a protest.

"It seems like they made up their minds a long time ago not to give us the raise we deserve," Officer Gaglione said.

The new 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. Union leaders said the deal was significant because it breaks the tradition of pattern bargaining, under which the city negotiates virtually the same pay raises with all its unions. City Hall officials dispute that interpretation.

The union and the city will have to begin bargaining again almost immediately for a contract to cover the years going forward. Many police officers remained optimistic that one day, perhaps during an upturn in the economy, they would earn salaries comparable to those earned by police officers on Long Island and in New Jersey.

"We just have to keep at it and the next one will be better," said a police officer who works in Brooklyn. "We weren't given much of a chance this time around."

Before the award, the starting salary for city police officers was $31,305, far less than their suburban counterparts earn and 20 percent less than officers in Newark are paid. 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.

Most officers who were interviewed said they would refuse any raise in the future that was tied to extra workdays. Many said they were waiting for the city to concede something first, in a show of good faith, before they would consider a productivity change.

"As along as Bloomberg's sentiment is that we have to give back, then it's not going to change," said an officer from the 70th Precinct who was assigned to the security detail in Times Square for yesterday's National Football League celebration. "We don't have anything else to give back."