The New York Times

February 3, 2007


City Sues Albany Official Over Police Contract Impasse

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE

The Bloomberg administration filed a lawsuit against a top state labor relations official yesterday in an effort to break a stalemate over a contract dispute involving the city police union.

In the suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Albany, the administration asks the court to order the official — Richard A. Curreri, the director of conciliation for the Public Employment Relations Board — to name a chairman for an arbitration panel that would take up the contract dispute.

Officials with the labor board proposed nine candidates to head the arbitration panel, with the two sides expected to pick a chairman from the list. But the union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, refused to choose anyone from the panel, insisting that two candidates were biased against the union.

“The P.B.A. didn’t seem interested in settling this contract, so the city filed for arbitration,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement yesterday. “What’s inexplicable is how PERB has dragged its feet and slowed the arbitration process to a halt.”

The suit asks the court to order Mr. Curreri to name as chairman the arbitrator the city has chosen: Arnold M. Zack, a former president of the National Academy of Arbitrators.

The city contends that under state rules, once a party in a contract dispute fails to participate in the process of choosing a chairman, all candidates named on a list must be deemed acceptable to that party.

Sheila Talavera, secretary to the chairman of the Public Employment Relations Board, said the board had no comment on the lawsuit. She said Mr. Curreri was not available for comment because of a family emergency.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association asserts that Mr. Zack should not have been a candidate because in 1997 he was part of an arbitration panel that ordered a contract with a two-year wage freeze for the police. Patrick J. Lynch, the union’s president, said this showed Mr. Zack’s bias against the union.

But city officials said the panel had merely ordered the police union to agree to the same wage freeze that most other municipal unions had accepted.

“This suit is a desperate attempt by the city to stack the deck against its police officers by trying to name a biased arbitrator,” Mr. Lynch said yesterday. “Clearly the city is afraid to give these officers a fair hearing before an impartial arbitrator.” The union also objected to Stanley Aegis, another member of the panel that ordered the wage freeze.

Under state rules, each side gets to choose one representative on the arbitration panel. The two sides are then supposed to agree on a third person to serve as chairman, chosen from a list drawn up by the labor relations board.

One factor delaying the process is that all three seats on the Public Employment Relations Board are vacant.

Mr. Lynch has complained bitterly about the low starting salary, $25,100, for police recruits. City officials and Mr. Lynch agree that the low pay has hurt recruitment efforts. The union’s last contract expired in August 2004.

City officials say they proposed raising the starting pay to $37,800. But the union has rejected that proposal because it is tied to several concessions, including fewer weeks of vacation for new police officers.

Currently, police officers’ salary rises to $32,700 after six months and to a maximum base pay of $59,588 after five and a half years.

City officials have suggested that Mr. Lynch, fearing that an arbitration panel may award only modest raises, wants to delay an arbitration decision until after the union holds its election for president in the spring. Mr. Lynch is running for re-election.

City officials say an arbitration panel will probably set police wages in a pattern similar to the one the city’s firefighters have. Sixteen months ago, the Bloomberg administration negotiated a 50-month contract with the Uniformed Firefighters Association, giving the firefighters raises of 3 percent and 3.15 percent over the contract’s last 26 months.

Mr. Lynch of the police union has asked for raises considerably greater than that, saying they are needed to help the city recruit and retain officers.