The New York Times

August 19, 2004

A Noisy Late-Night Message for the Mayor on Pay Raises


The contract dispute between Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the police and firefighters grew nastier yesterday as union members held a noisy 1 a.m. protest outside his Upper East Side town house and the police union threatened to set up picket lines at the Republican National Convention.

Seeking to turn up the pressure on the mayor, Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said for the first time yesterday that his union might picket the convention and ask Republican delegates - along with employees at Madison Square Garden - to honor the picket line.

"We're keeping all our options open, and that is certainly an option,'' he said.

Such a move would put Republican delegates in an uncomfortable position because crossing the line might be seen as showing disrespect for the nation's police officers - a group that President Bush's campaign is wooing assiduously. And New York's police officers, like its firefighters, are held in special regard because of their role in confronting the Sept. 11 attack.

The threat comes despite pledges by the New York City Central Labor Council that the city's unions would not disrupt the convention. But Mr. Lynch said his union was not bound by that pledge because the P.B.A. does not belong to the labor council.

Hoping to persuade Mr. Bloomberg to make a more generous contract offer, police officers and firefighters have for over a week dogged him wherever he goes, picketing and heckling him. In addition, the leaders of the police and fire unions have warned that they will not rule out a strike, perhaps even during the Republican convention, even though state law prohibits walkouts by government employees.

"The mayor has created these tensions with his unreasonable and unacceptable contract offer,'' said Stephen Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

At a City Hall news conference yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg insisted that he would not let the unions' pressure tactics intimidate him. He also belittled the raucous rally and candlelight vigil that hundreds of police officers and firefighters staged outside his house on 79th Street near Fifth Avenue.

"We are not going to be intimidated,'' Mr. Bloomberg said. "I'm not going to go do a labor deal because people are yelling and screaming."

Later he added: "All the yelling and screaming isn't going to accomplish anything, other than keeping them up late at night. I slept very well.''

In recent days, several City Hall officials have said they do not take seriously the threat of a strike or some vague calls for a sudden bout of blue flu - in which officers call in sick - during the convention, which runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. These officials said that the city's police officers, who are eager for higher pay, would be reluctant to shun the hefty amount of overtime during the convention, when thousands of police officers will be assigned to 12-hour shifts.

"We have the greatest police department and fire department,'' Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday. "The people who work there are not going to strike. They're very proud of the job that they do."

Mr. Bloomberg has said that unless the police and firefighters agree to greater productivity, they should receive no more than the 5 percent raise over three years accepted by the city's largest municipal union, District Council 37.

Mr. Bloomberg has angered Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Lynch, not only by making a wage offer that they view as insultingly low but also by insisting that those two leaders are using their protests and harsh words to grandstand to win re-election. Mr. Bloomberg had also said that the two leaders were too scared to show the city's offer to union members.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Cassidy began speaking angrily about how the mayor was treating him, his union and the P.B.A. "They're engaging in the politics of personal destruction against me and Pat Lynch,'' he said. "They're saying we haven't brought the proposal back to our membership. That's a lie. They're saying we're afraid to negotiate a deal. That's a lie."

The police and firefighters say they are frustrated because they have been without a contract for two years. Adding to their anger is a sense that the mayor has not accorded them the respect, in the form of a sizable raise, that they believe they deserve. They see themselves as the heroes of the Sept. 11 attacks, yet the city is offering no more than the 5 percent over three years offered to other unions.

So many union members are reported to be so angry that some labor experts say they might get carried away and take rash actions that would anger the public when the unions are eager to maintain public support. With recent terror alerts and threats of large protest rallies planned, these experts said, the public might have little patience for disruptions by the police and firefighters.

"They're capable of going off the deep end,'' said Fred Siegel, an expert on urban affairs at Cooper Union. "They're really working themselves into a frenzy.''

Mr. Cassidy said, "We are concerned about public support, and we're concerned that the disinformation campaign that City Hall has put out has had a negative impact.''

The police union and the firefighters' union have both sought arbitration, hoping that an arbitrator would award them more than the 5 percent accepted by District Council 37 and several other nonuniformed unions. But city officials have fought against setting up an arbitration panel, saying the contract dispute should be settled at the bargaining table.

Many police officers and firefighters say that they deserve higher raises than District Council 37, which they call a union of paper pushers.

"Our members are putting their lives on the line every day,'' Mr. Lynch said.

Mr. Cassidy said the mayor could defuse labor tensions by agreeing to expedited arbitration.

Edward Skyler, a spokesman for the mayor, said the city could not afford to give the police and firefighters larger raises than other unions have received.

"Just because the city's economy is improving doesn't mean the city can afford huge pay increases,'' he said. "The only way to fund them would be by raising taxes because the city is facing a $3.8 billion budget deficit next year.''