March 31, 2006

Police Union Head Moves To Quash Office of Collective Bargaining

Staff Reporter of the Sun

The head of the city's police union says he wants to abolish the city's quasi-independent Office of Collective Bargaining and add to the state's Taylor Law a fine to the city for each day union contracts are expired.

"We are certain that such a levy will result in contracts being settled on time," the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, said yesterday during a hearing of the City Council Civil Service Committee. "Right now there is zero penalty for the city for not negotiating in good faith," he said.

The head of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, who also testified, said she supports Mr. Lynch's proposals. Ms. Weingarten said the City Council could be "a voice of moral persuasion, effective moral persuasion," on state lawmakers who have the power to amend the 39-year-old law governing municipal labor negotiating practices. Portions of that law are set to expire in July 2006.

Mr. Lynch said police now face a recruiting and retention "crisis" because of the $25,000 starting pay for new officers, a result of binding arbitration the PBA entered after months of negotiation with the city stalled. The city's Office of Collective Bargaining settles contracts based on precedent, not merit, Mr. Lynch said.

"Of 27 cases brought before it, the city has won 27 to nothing," Mr. Lynch said of the Office of Collective Bargaining. "They must twiddle their thumbs, not listen to the evidence, and just rule according to pattern."

Officials from the Office of Collective Bargaining were invited to the hearing, but did not attend, according to City Council officials.

Since the law does not define terms for "fair negotiations," nor are public employers fined for delaying negotiations, employers can delay negotiations until one union capitulates, basically forcing other unions to accept similar contracts, Mr. Lynch said.

The chairman of the City Council Civil Service Committee, Joseph Addabbo Jr., a Democrat of Queens, referred to that portion of the law as "that arbitrary term of good faith."

Last year, Mayor Bloomberg struck deals with several municipal unions that paid for salary increases for existing workers in part by lowering starting salaries for new employees.

Treasurer and secretary for the Transport Workers Union Local 100, Ed Watt, said provisions of the Taylor Law were vague, unfair, and "stupid." Mr. Watt donned a button on his jacket that read, "It's About Respect" and "Yes," referring to the union's effort to organize a revote on the contract that members rejected earlier by seven votes. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with whom TWU was negotiating, said their contract offer is no longer enforceable and wants to now enter binding arbitration.

Mr. Addabbo said the hearing on a piece of state law was not related to his possible race for state senate. "My run for Senate ... really does depend on what actual budget does come out of Albany," Mr. Addabbo said. "The proposals are nice, but lets see if it's actually ratified...then I'll make my decision." He said another hearing would be held shortly, at which time a resolution outlining changes to the law will be presented.