Chief-Leader

March 29, 2016, 11:53 AM


27 Arbitrators Strike Back at PBA, Refuse To Work Its Cases

By Richard Steier

    
PATRICK J. LYNCH: Defends against charge that he is a bully.  

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat­rick J. Lynch’s unrelenting criticism of the arbitrator who awarded his union a pair of 1-percent raises last November drew an unprecedented rebuke last week when 27 arbitrators sent a letter to the mediation agencies for both the city and state saying they did not want to be considered for assignment to future cases involving the PBA because of its “reprehensible” conduct.

Using words like “bullying” and “public vilification” to characterize Mr. Lynch’s tactics, the arbitrators—who included Carol Wittenberg, a longtime neutral member of the city’s Board of Collective Bargaining until her term expired in January—said they “do not want their names sent out for consideration in any arbitration case in which the NYC PBA is a party. By signing below, the Arbitrators are indicating that they have not been intimidated by the bullying and vitriol spewed by the PBA leadership. Rather, we are too experienced and accomplished in our field to devote any time working with parties who disrespect the arbitration process and the Arbitrators who serve.”

PBA: Just Gave the Facts

Mr. Lynch responded in an e-mail that it “did nothing more than point out the unethical behavior” of arbitrator Howard Edelman, and that the union “will continue to exercise our First Amendment rights to denounce” his award.

Even before Mr. Edelman finalized it Nov. 13, the PBA had undertaken an unusually public protest of his preliminary findings in the case. The award upheld a bargaining pattern the de Blasio administration had established with most other uniformed unions, including all four representing cops in higher ranks of the NYPD and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, whose members have long had salary parity with Police Officers.

Mr. Lynch has repeatedly said that his rank and file should have its pay based not on what other city employees receive but on what is being paid to entry-level cops in neighboring jurisdictions. He was furious over Mr. Edelman’s decision to honor the city pattern. For the past four decades, PBA leaders have protested the growing gap between top pay for their members and their counterparts on Long Island.

That anger was expressed in a series of newspaper ads that continued in some publications—including this one—for several weeks after the final award was presented. Among other things, the ads accused Mr. Edelman of show­ing a bias toward the city with an eye toward gaining future business. Union members also massed outside Mr. Edelman’s Upper East Side apartment one morning for a protest in which they accused him of cheating them to benefit “the one percent” of wealthy New Yorkers like himself.

The arbitrators, in calling the union’s actions “nothing short of reprehensible,” singled out that visit, saying, “It is inexcusable and highly unprofessional for the PBA to take its dissatisfaction with the outcome of a case to the Arbitrator’s personal residence.”

Group Objection a First

Susan Panepento, the Director of the city’s Office of Collective Bargaining and the Chair of the BCB, said the agency “routinely” got requests from individual arbitrators not to be considered for particular cases, but that “we have not received a letter like this previously” from such a large group expressing displeasure with the behavior of either an employer or a union.

The arbitrators sent a copy of the March 24 letter to Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association President Harry Nespoli because of his role as chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group for the city labor movement.

Reached the following afternoon, Mr. Nespoli said he had not yet seen the letter. After being given a summary of its contents, he said, “Not for nothin’, this is still America. We can still voice our opinions. It’s a tough job, being a Police Officer. Maybe they honestly feel like they should get [more money]. The arbitrator felt that every­body should get equal [contract terms].”

The basic terms reached by other uniformed unions, including Mr. Nespoli’s, provided raises of 11 percent over a seven-year period. In the first two years of those pacts, however, there were annual raises of just 1 percent, with larger increases coming at the back end of the deals.

PERB’s 2-Year Limit

Under the rules of the state Public Employment Relations Board, arbitration awards must be limited to two years unless both parties agree to an extension, and Mr. Edelman decided to match those 1-percent raises for the PBA, saying that to do otherwise would disrupt the stability of the bargaining process by leading all other unions to be reluctant to make the first deal of a bargaining round, only to have someone else gain something better by going to arbitration.

The PBA more than any other city union has utilized the arbitration process. Since Mr. Lynch became its president in 1999, he has used it to resolve four of the five contracts he has obtained. While in some cases he has done slightly better than other uniformed-union leaders in terms of raises for officers already on the job, those gains have usually been offset to a large degree by givebacks that came largely at the expense of future hires. The most-notorious example came in a 2005 arbitration, in which the panel chairman, Eric Schmertz, expressed his intention to give officers two 5-percent raises. Aides to then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg vehemently pro­tes­ted, eventually persuading Mr. Schmertz to limit the potential cost to the city by sharply reducing both the starting salary and the pay scale for future officers.

Caused Recruiting Woes

The new starting salary, which was more than $10,000 below the previous level, created major recruiting problems for the NYPD, and in 2008 the city used the arbitration to bring beginning pay back close to where it had been. In return, however, it demanded and won concessions that included reduced vacation schedules for future officers and some lesser givebacks that came at the expense of those already on the job. Three months after that award, which produced some grumbling from officers who were affected by the latter givebacks, the union reached its only negotiated deal under Mr. Lynch, replicating terms reached the previous summer by the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association that included two 4-percent raises and no givebacks.

That contract, which ran through Aug. 1, 2010, was still in effect more than five years later at the time of Mr. Edelman’s award, a delay largely attributable to Mr. Bloomberg’s position through­out his final term in office that he would not negotiate any raises for municipal workers that were not paid for by givebacks in other areas.

In his rebuttal to the arbitrators last week, Mr. Lynch stated regarding his campaign against the arbitrator, “This union did nothing more than point out the unethical behavior of Mr. Edelman, who not only disregarded the facts in evidence and the Taylor Law’s arbitration-award criteria, but also accepted future work from the city while sitting in judgment on the police contract without informing us as he was required to do.”

He was referring to two other arbitrations involving much-smaller unions than the PBA. One veteran arbitrator, asked at the time that the PBA first raised the issue whether there was anything improper about this, responded that, to the contrary, it was not uncommon for highly-regarded arbitrators to be handling more than one case at a time.

Complained to National Bd.

Nonetheless, Mr. Lynch no­ted in his e-mail that the union has a complaint against Mr. Edelman pending before the National Academy of Arbitrators, and said the PBA would continue speaking out on an award that it believed was “a matter of public concern.”

Anger within the arbitration community about the PBA’s slashing attacks on Mr. Edelman has been percolating virtually from the time of the union’s demonstration outside his apartment building. Two prominent arbitrators early this year privately used the word “disgraceful” to characterize Mr. Lynch’s tactics.