January 16, 2008

Police Union Seeks To Shut a College Loans Program

Staff Reporter of the Sun

The union that represents police officers is asking the city to shut down two programs that help rookie officers pay off college loans and the costs of uniforms.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association contends that the programs — one that provides officers with money to pay back college loans and another that helps rookies pay for uniforms — should be eliminated because they were not negotiated under collective bargaining, according to a brief filed with the New York City Office of Collective Bargaining that was obtained by The New York Sun.

Filed on December 10 in the midst of contract arbitration hearings between the city and the union, the brief and an accompanying improper practice petition, both of which appear to be an attempt to strip union members of financial benefits, highlight the ongoing labor battle over police officer salaries.

"The problem is that the NYPD can't attract enough new recruits because the compensation at all levels is not competitive. These programs are not solutions to the problem," the president of the PBA, Patrick Lynch, said.

The college loan reimbursement program, instituted in October, was created to help the department recruit new officers by providing them with up to $15,000 to pay back college loans. Funding for the program came via the New York City Police Foundation, and one of its longtime benefactors, Richard Fields, who provided a $1.5 million gift to launch the initiative.

"It is incomprehensible to me why anyone would be against helping these young officers who are coming into the department at a very low salary," the chairwoman of the Police Foundation, Valerie Salembier, who is also the publisher of Harper's Bazaar, said. "How could you be against it?"

The PBA says it sees the program as a patchwork solution that doesn't address the greater problem: that police officers need to earn a substantially higher wage.

"The solution is to comply with the Taylor law and pay NYC police officers a competitive market wage," Mr. Lynch said.

In search of a pay hike that would put salaries on par with those of other regional police departments, the union has refused to accept the parameters of a raise proposed by the Bloomberg administration and is involved in binding arbitration with the city.

The union's push to repeal the initiative may underscore the severely fractured relationship between itself and the city, and the tensions within the union between veterans and newcomers, who earn a salary for the first six months of $25,100 under the last contract deal approved by the union.

While labor relationships are generally intense and heated negotiations can often boil to the point of emotional intensity, negotiators always pick and choose their battles, the director of labor relations and legal studies at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Andrea Terrillion, said.

The union's central argument is that the city is required to negotiate any new benefits for its members.

"Compensation is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining and we will not allow the city to bypass the process that exists to ensure fair treatment for all of our police officers," Mr. Lynch said.

Since the reimbursement program is for new officers, it doesn't benefit all of the union's members.

"If the foundation had that attitude nothing would get done," Ms. Salembier said. "I wish I could raise enough money to make this available for everyone."

A decision on whether to eliminate the program will ultimately fall to the office of collective bargaining. It will likely hinge on if the board decides that the police department has the managerial right to implement the program, Ms. Terrillion said.

The second initiative the union is attempting to rescind, instituted by the police department in July, provides new officers with a $600 allowance to pay for uniforms.

According to the collective bargaining agreement, the department is required to pay new officers an allowance of $1000 for uniforms in accord with existing procedures.

Since the department has for years paid the allowances in December, the union contends that the department is working outside of the agreement by paying the money earlier than scheduled.