The New York Times
June 3, 2007

In Police Hiring Crisis, Clouds of Contention


Any hope for a quick end to the long-running contract dispute between Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the city’s main police union seemed to vanish last week when the union appealed a state official’s order for arbitration to move forward.

A top Bloomberg aide seized on that appeal to accuse the police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, of cynically delaying action in order to worsen the city’s crisis in recruiting police officers.

“I guess their view is that at some point if they can hurt the department as much as they can, at some point the mayor will just change his mind and we’ll just throw money at them,” said the aide, James F. Hanley, the city’s labor commissioner.

That, he said, is not going to happen. Rather, Mr. Hanley, the city’s top labor negotiator, said the city will continue to do what it has traditionally done: offer the police union the same percentage raises it has offered the firefighters and other uniformed unions.

The Police Department’s recruitment crisis is so serious — hurt by the low starting salary of $25,100 — that there will be just 800 cadets in the Police Academy’s new session, just one-third what the city had hoped. City officials fear that there will be even fewer cadets in the January session.

From City Hall’s view, the faster the contract dispute is resolved, whether through arbitration or negotiation, the faster the city can raise salaries for cadets and experienced police officers and the faster the recruitment crisis will end.

The patrolmen’s union says it is neither delaying resolution of the dispute — the union’s contract expired 35 months ago — nor seeking to worsen recruitment problems. Rather, the union argues that Mr. Bloomberg is to blame for the recruitment crisis.

Union officials say that the mayor has been far too stingy about raising police pay, especially when police salaries are far higher in Nassau and Suffolk and for the Port Authority.

Patrick J. Lynch, the union’s president, said, “The problem can be solved today if the mayor recognized the simple fact that only competitive pay will keep the N.Y.P.D. adequately staffed.”

Mr. Lynch’s goal is to pressure the mayor into giving raises considerably larger than those received by the other uniformed unions.

The annual base pay rate for the city’s police rises to $32,700 after the first six months and tops out at $59,588 after five and a half years. In Suffolk, top pay is $97,958 after five years; in Nassau, it is $91,737 after seven years.

Last week the union appealed a decision by Richard A. Curreri, a top official in the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, in which he ordered the city and the union to select the chairman of a three-person arbitration panel from a list of nine arbitrators.

The union had originally refused to participate in the selection process, arguing that two of the nine arbitrators were biased because a decade ago they had joined a decision that ordered a two-year wage freeze for police officers. That decision followed the pattern of wage freezes previously established by District Council 37 and other unions.

Mr. Curreri had ruled that those two arbitrators should remain on the list, saying they were respected figures — one, Arnold M. Zack, is a former president of the National Academy of Arbitrators. Unhappy with Mr. Curreri’s ruling, the union has appealed to the full Public Employment Relations Board, asking it to remove those two arbitrators from the list.

Mr. Hanley, the city labor commissioner, said the appeal was a crass delaying tactic that was bound to fail. He asserted that if the police union had not kept appealing one decision after another, the contract dispute would have already been resolved and the union’s 23,000 members would already have received raises.

“At this point, I think he’s hurting his own members,” Mr. Hanley said of Mr. Lynch. “They are delaying a raise.”

But it is not at all evident that police officers believe that Mr. Lynch is hurting their cause. Indeed, he recently ran unopposed for a third four-year term. And on Friday, ballots were counted, in a formality that affirmed his victory.

Mr. Lynch says rank-and-file police officers agree with his contention that they deserve a raise higher than the 4-percent-a-year pattern received by other unions. He argues that 4 percent raises will in no way slow the exodus of New York police to the suburbs.

Mr. Lynch says he is seeking to knock the two arbitrators off the list to maximize his union’s chances of getting an arbitration ruling that awards the police more than the pattern obtained by other unions.

Mr. Hanley predicted that an arbitration panel would award the police union the same raise — 8.16 percent compounded over two years — that the city granted to the Uniformed Firefighters Association in a contract settlement in March. Noting there has been dollar-for-dollar pay parity between the police and firefighters since 1898, Mr. Hanley said it was doubtful arbitrators would turn their backs on that tradition.

But Michael Murray, the union’s general counsel, argued that neither Mr. Bloomberg nor an arbitration panel should be beholden to parity.

“Why should parity matter when you’re approaching a situation where people in the city are going to be endangered when the city can’t hire enough police officers?” Mr. Murray said. “Why should we be handcuffed by an arbitrary construct like parity?