City & State May 25, 2016  

Police Union Campaigns for Higher Pay, Disability Benefits


Dozens of off-duty NYPD officers and Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch staked out the Broadway entrance to City Hall on Wednesday to take their case for higher pay and disability benefits directly to the public and the New York City Council.

The sidewalk appeal comes on the heels of a TV ad blitz sponsored by the PBA which features the wife of an NYPD police officer who says on camera that her family of five “can't afford to live in the city my husband protects.”

The publicity campaign comes as the city and the PBA are locked in a stand-off over union contract negotiations dating back to when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office. In 2014 the PBA went back to the bargaining table, but both sides appear far apart. Lynch, the PBA president, says that NYPD officers’ pay is on average 34 percent below the salaries paid to police officers from surrounding jurisdictions. According to the NYPD recruiting web page, starting base pay for an NYPD officer fresh out of the Police Academy is $41,975 without overtime.

“We are looking for a market rate of pay,” Lynch told City & State. “We are looking to be paid as professional police officers. We are held responsible as professional police officers. We should be paid that way as well.”

In its appeal to the public, the PBA also cites de Blasio's campaign pledge to take concrete steps to confront the city's challenge of growing income inequality.

Improving labor relations with the city's unions was a top priority for de Blasio, and in prior public statements the administration has pledged to keep an open door policy on negotiations with the PBA.

“The proof is in the pudding – 95 percent of all contracts have been settled,” said Karen Hinton, a de Blasio spokeswoman. “When the mayor took office, zero contracts had been settled.”

There does appear to be some progress between the two sides on one issue: revisiting a decision made in 2009 by then-Gov. David Paterson to veto an extension of the existing disability benefits paid out to NYPD officers and firefighters, which had guaranteed they would receive three quarters of their last year's pay tax free. 

At the time, Paterson in his veto message reasoned that this bill “has been extended routinely since its initial enactment. But these are not routine times. The state and localities are hemorrhaging revenue at an alarming rate due to the recession and financial crisis."

As a consequence of the veto, officers and firefighters hired after 2009 would only qualify for 50 percent of their last year's pay, with that allotment potentially offset by whatever Social Security payments the injured officer qualified for from the federal government.

According to Lynch, officers on disability could also actually lose their disability pension if they sought to supplement their income by seeking out additional work. Roughly 11,000 officers fall into the post-veto cohort.

The disability battle has intensified in the aftermath of a 2014 arson fire set by a 16-year-old at a Coney Island NYCHA building that killed NYPD Officer Dennis Guerra and left his partner, Officer Rosa Rodriguez, seriously injured. Rodriguez, a mother of four, now suffers from serious long-term respiratory damage. Rodriguez, a four-year veteran at the time, fell into that cohort of officers who qualified for the dramatically reduced disability pension.

Had Rodriguez been hired just a year earlier she would have been entitled to a $39,952 disability pension, tax free, and not offset by whatever she received from Social Security, DNAinfo reported in 2014. Under the post-veto disability pension schedule she was only entitled to $26,600, offset by whatever she qualified for under disability from the federal government. “How can she live in New York City making that?," Lynch asked at the gathering outside City Hall.

Earlier this month, de Blasio committed to push for an end of the Social Security offset and for the institution of periodic cost-of-living increases for first responders hired after 2009.

Meanwhile, the PBA wants a full restoration of the disability benefits, including the ability for officers to make supplemental income without being penalized. The union is pressing the City Council for a home rule message in support of their position to be sent to the state Legislature, which ultimately has to sign off on any changes.