Sun
July 29, 2004

POLICE AND FIRE UNIONS RALLY AT CITY HALL

Talk of a Strike Begins

By JILL GARDINER Staff Reporter of the Sun

Hundreds of police officers and firefighters rallied outside City Hall yesterday in the latest chapter in an increasingly ugly standoff with the mayor over salary increases.

Chanting “No Contract, No Work” and holding signs that read “Mayor Money Bags,” protesters — some of whom openly called for an illegal strike —charged the city with failing to pay them enough for jobs that require them to risk their lives to protect the public.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president, Patrick Lynch, charged the mayor with using dwindling crime rates, reductions in response times, and terrorism preparedness to his political credit, while simultaneously refusing to pay first responders for carrying out those measures on the streets.

“We have mature men and women who are still living at home in their parents’ basements because they can’t afford their own places,” Mr. Lynch told The New York Sun after the protest. “We are asking to be paid like other police professionals.”

“The heroes of 9/11 and New York City will no longer accept zeros,” he continued, referring to the city’s offer, which includes no pay increase in the first year of a three-year contract. “We have gone to the bargaining table and not once has the city put forward a reasonable proposal.”

The unions have been protesting outside Madison Square Garden since July 19 and have vowed to continue the public pressure through the Republic National Convention, which comes to town at the end of August. They have also started confronting the mayor at public appearances.

On Monday, they drove a billboard that read “Billionaire Bloomberg” past an event the mayor was attending on Staten Island. Later that evening, several firefighters cornered him outside a town hall meeting in the Bronx to make their case in person.

The mayor has remained steadfast in his argument that the city cannot afford to sweeten its offer and has repeatedly urged the Bravest and Finest to come to the bargaining table.

“The strategy of following me around and yelling and screaming is just counterproductive,” Mr. Bloomberg told reporters at Fort Totten Park in Queens. “There is no way that we can allow that kind of behavior here to set labor policy.”

The city’s template contract offer — which was accepted in April by the largest municipal union, District Council 37 — is a one-time, $1,000 lumpsum payment and raises of 3% and 2% in the second and third years of the contract. The latter hinges on “productivity savings,” or concessions such as fewer paid holidays.

The PBA and Uniformed Firefighters Association disagree with City Hall’s interpretation of the offer. The two unions say it is just a 4% increase over three years, not 5%, arguing that the “productivity savings” are nothing more than “givebacks.”

“New York City’s firefighters and police officers are more productive and better trained now than they have ever been,” the UFA president, Stephen Cassidy,said.“The productivity savings are a fallacy.

When asked about the possibility of a strike — barred under the Taylor Law — Mr. Cassidy said the “words were uttered” by some in the FDNY. The mayor insists there will be no strike.

He said that while he preferred negotiations, the unions could always resort to the independent arbitration panel, a possibility they are contemplating.

Mr. Cassidy called the city’s proposal a “slap in the face” and said the departments must be treated differently because of the dangerous nature of their work.

Union leaders say the starting pay is $36,000 for police officers and roughly $34,500 for firefighters. Both departments have been without a contract since July 2002.