July 2, 2016

Razzle Dazzle

To Beat Pattern, PBA Must Change Strategy


DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN: Less than eight months after concluding a bruising arbitration process that left the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association so disappointed by the outcome that it launched a public campaign questioning the fairness of the arbitration panel chairman, PBA President Pat Lynch (left) and Labor Commissioner Bob Linn appear headed for another showdown before a third party.

The question about the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association seeking another contract arbitration less than a year after its last award left its leadership thoroughly infuriated always came down to when, rather than if.

Even before last November’s award by arbitration panel chairman Howard Edelman was finalized, battle lines had been drawn for the sequel.

Having made its case that the union should not get more under the two-year limit permitted by the rules of the state Public Employment Relations Board than the pair of 1-percent raises other unions had negotiated at the start of seven-year deals, the de Blasio administration had no reason to veer from its position that subsequent hikes should conform to the pattern for those other unions of 9 percent for five years.

And two days before Mr. Edelman officially released the terms everyone knew were coming, during a spirited PBA rally outside Gracie Mansion against that package, a union spokesman was unequivocal when asked what the next step would be. “We’ll negotiate with City Hall and if they give us a market rate of pay, we’ll do it through negotiations,” he said of a future contract. “If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be at PERB.”

Couldn’t Get to ‘Market’

By June 28, when the union asked PERB for a declaration of impasse so that a mediator could be appointed and, if that person were unable to break the deadlock, arbitration would begin, there had been, according to Labor Commissioner Bob Linn, “four or five” formal bargaining sessions in addition to committee meetings at which some of the demands from the two sides were hashed out.

Six weeks ago, during a rally trying to enlist public and City Council support for a last-minute push for an upgraded disability benefit for newer hires, PBA President Pat Lynch said “we’ve had no realistic conversations with the city” that were going to produce a deal in the near-future. But the number of bargaining sessions, regardless of how productive they were, would seem to support the PBA’s claim that sufficient talks have taken place to draw the conclusion that the parties won’t reach a deal without outside intervention.

Any hope of the PBA coming away with a package that would be more palatable to Mr. Lynch and his members than the terms accepted by the other uniformed unions would seem to rest on its showing more creativity than the union’s been willing to risk until now.

Earlier this year, District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, not long after being elected to his first full term in that job, said he was breaking with the union’s past practice of soliciting ideas from all its local presidents to produce an extensive Albany agenda, explaining, “If you have 152 legislative priorities, you have no priorities.”

The PBA’s arbitration case didn’t include quite that many demands, but what it submitted was enough to make an arbitrator’s eyes glaze over. In addition to a demand for a 17-percent raise over two years—15 percent more than the rest of the workforce got for that period—the union had sought a 15-percent salary differential for all members with a college degree, one of 10 percent for those performing anti-terrorism duty, a 12-percent bump for cops with at least eight years on the job who were in patrol assignments, longevity-pay increases of $2,000 a year for more senior officers, and a differential of up to $1,600 for cops who used few or no sick days.

Wrong Venue for Wish List

Even in the context of the PBA’s argument that its members are at the greatest disadvantage of any city employee group compared to counterparts in neighboring areas when it comes to compensation, this was a wish list that was stunningly wide for a stage in the bargaining process where it is especially important to focus on your gut-bucket priorities. The pay-raise demand by itself was more than 50 percent greater, and over a two-year period, than the other uniformed unions had negotiated covering seven years.

In his statement last week, Mr. Lynch said the way in which his members have fallen behind cops in other jurisdictions during the present administration was “just another example of Mayor de Blasio and his administration not appropriately supporting our police officers, who, as a result, would leave the NYPD if they could.”

The union did a survey of its rank and file several months ago that provided foundation for that statement of a mood leaning toward mass exodus. But those cops aren’t departing in huge numbers because there are­n’t thousands of jobs waiting for them in other jurisdictions that would treat them significantly better in both compensation and appreciation. Even if the wish of much of the rank and file came to pass and Mr. de Blasio were to be defeated in his bid for re-election next year, they should probably curb their enthusiasm about a successor giving them the keys to the kingdom.

What reason would they have to nurture such an expectation? Certainly not the previous 24 years of collective bargaining with Mr. de Blasio’s three immediate predecessors.

Bloomberg No Picnic

Relatively speaking, they did the best with Mi­chael Bloomberg in office, but had to go to arbitration on three of the four contracts produced during his 12 years in office and got stuck with a pact that was 42 months out of date at the time he left office, because that’s how he rolled during his final term.

A prior PBA administration had viewed Rudy Giuliani as the man who would take them to the Promised Land of Nassau County-type contracts. Then he got into office and gave them a deal that began with an 18-month wage freeze that was papered over with $4,000 signing bonuses that weren’t rolled into salary or of any use in hiking their pensions. He followed that up by ta­king a stance in arbitration quite similar to Mr. de Blasio’s, leading a panel of arbitrators to stick closely to a city bargaining pattern that produced the infamous “zeroes­ for heroes”: a two-year goose-egg, after which raises totaling 12 percent in the following three years did not remove the bad taste. And Rudy’s last negotiation with the union got pushed into the Bloomberg administration because Mr. Lynch, who had gained office in 1999 largely by running against that arbitration award, was unwilling to accept the terms agreed to by a uniformed coalition during Mr. Giuliani’s last year in office, 2001.

David Dinkins before that? Trapped into a too-generous contract with the United Federation of Teachers in 1990 by a tactical error made by his first labor negotiator, Eric Schmertz, Mr. Dinkins tried to pare down the city’s costs with a convoluted strategy that scrapped traditional bargaining relationships in favor of basing the raises on how much the city was saving through recalculations of its pension contributions for individual unions, and made the case stand up in arbitration.

Even Koch Not Ideal

The last Mayor with whom the union had a consistently good bargaining relationship was Ed Koch, whose chief negotiator for the final half of his 12 years in office was Bob Linn. Yet even with Mr. Koch giving the PBA most-favored-nation status in negotiations, on the one contract that could be termed a bonanza for officers in terms of both solid raises and major increases in lon­gev­ity payments, those gains were offset in large part by screwing future cops by imposing a cheaper starting salary and slowing their progression to maximum salary by a couple of years. That deal also converted Variable Supplements Fund payments to cops to defined benefits, allowing the city to shift large sums of money from that fund to its general treasury. During the stock-market boom of the late 1990s, it was estimated that the city had to pay $4 billion less into its Police and Fire Pension Funds as a result of this element of that deal.

In other words, there is unlikely to be, among the challengers who emerge to Mr. de Blasio next year, a Mayor so utterly different, and so empathetic to the PBA and its members’ needs, that he or she will push all other spending priorities over a cliff to make their day.

And to the degree that Mr. Lynch has had success in arbitration, as the first president of the union who was able to take bargaining disputes before a panel operating under the jurisdiction of PERB rather than the city Board of Collective Bargaining, it has to be viewed carefully in evaluating just how good a tactic it has been.

Same Pay But Faster

The 2002 arbitration produced some tangible improve­ments over the pattern set by the uniformed coalition a year before when Mr. Giuliani gave those other unions two 5-percent raises and an additional “unit-bargaining” increase of 1.5 percent over a 30-month period. With Mr. Linn serving as the union’s outside bargaining counsel, it got an award providing those same two 5-percent raises over a period of just 24 months, and the “unit-bargaining” hike was paid three months earlier than it had been for those other workers.

But less than a month before that award was issued, the Daily News had reported that the panel was about to award the exact terms to the PBA that the other unions had negotiated with Mr. Giuliani. What changed between that point and the award? The word was that Mr. Lynch had made his displeasure at that prospect known to the Governor at the time, George Pataki, who was in the midst of a campaign for a third term. This had the effect, or so the story is told, of a gubernatorial emissary reaching out to arbitration panel chair­man Dana Eischen, who was based upstate, to let him know that if he adjusted the award in a way that displeased Mr. Bloomberg, he didn’t have to worry about it affecting future business he might receive from state government.

The fact that this scenario is plausible doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Nor do you have to buy the assessment at the time by Mr. Bloom­berg’s Labor Commissioner, Jim Hanley, that while the final award “tweaked the pattern,” the additional gains were “hardly historic.”

But the words of Mr. Linn, who as the PBA’s special negotiator had reason to tout the gains, offer a perspective that in that context is notable. He said back then, “This did not represent a significant increase. On the other hand, I think it was an important first step that exceeds the uniformed pattern and begins to address the market issues that the city must address.”

Didn’t Mollify Lynch

Not enough to satisfy Mr. Lynch, however, who did not use his services after that, although he quoted some of Mr. Linn’s statements during that arbitration about how inadequately city cops were compensated during last year’s arbitration proceeding.

The closest the PBA came to hitting the mother lode in arbitration was in 2005, a year after Mr. Bloomberg made the mistake of insisting on such an anemic contract for DC 37 that no other union opted to negotiate a similar deal. This meant that when Mr. Lynch arrived at the arbitration proceedings, there wasn’t a uniformed-union pattern to undercut his ambitious demands. And the panel chairman on that occasion was Mr. Schmertz, who publicly expressed his belief that the DC 37 deal did not constitute a legitimate pattern that should influence his own deliberations.

Free of that restraint, he declared that he believed Police Officers should receive 5-percent annual raises, and that he would do it for four years if the Bloomberg administration was willing to set aside the two-year statutory limit that could be waived only by the consent of both parties.

Mr. Bloomberg heatedly objected, and Mr. Hanley and other officials lobbied for reductions in the city’s costs through concessions in other areas. The end result was that incumbent officers got their two 5-percent raises, but the city was able to slash starting pay by more than $10,000, and do even greater damage to the pay scale for future hires than was achieved under the 1988 contract with Mr. Koch. This limited the hit on the city budget of the pay raises, but it also triggered a major recruiting problem for the Police Department.

Diverted ‘Unborn’ Anger

Such deals in the past had proved politically fatal for the heads of several police and fire unions once enough of the “unborn” who got screwed came on the job and represented majorities who not surprisingly opted for new leadership. It didn’t have that impact on Mr. Lynch, perhaps because of his skill in keeping his members’ anger directed at City Hall.

In 2008 he returned to arbitration again, and while other uniformed unions—which had been burned by the structure of his 2005 award, which forced them to make added concessions to get the same raises—had created something of a pattern, he was able to top it by 3.5 percent when it came to wage hikes over two years. To do so, however, he had to let the city take another bite out of the unborn: even as the award bumped starting salary up to nearly where it had been prior to the 2005 contract, there were cuts in other areas affecting future hires, most notably by shortening their vacation schedules during their early years of service. And there were also a couple of hits, such as having to qualify on the NYPD firing range on a vacation day rather than at city expense, and the department gaining the right to reschedule cops on up to 11 days per year without having to pay overtime, that affected incumbent officers as well.

A Rare Negotiated Deal

By the time that award had come down, Mr. Bloom­berg had become sufficiently wary of a repeat of the 2005 arbitration that he had tried to box in the PBA by negotiating an extended contract with the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association in 2007 that concluded with a series of 4-percent raises. With incumbent Police Officers feeling the burn of the concessions forced upon them in the 2008 arbitration, Mr. Lynch for the only time in his 17 years as PBA president opted to reach a deal at the bargaining table that featured those same 4-percent hikes and no givebacks over each of four years.

Accompanying Mr. Lynch’s statement last week were charts comparing hourly compensation for city cops to those in both the greater New York area and cities across the country. They indicated that when it came to direct compensation over a 20-year career, officers in Suffolk County were 72 percent better off and those in Nassau got 49 percent more, with even officers in Newark 9 percent above NYPD cops. The national comparison indicated San Francisco cops were doing 67 percent better, and those in Los Angeles were 33 percent above the NYPD when it came to direct compensation.

Mr. Linn in a phone interview the next day did not address the differences between the city and surrounding areas on police pay and benefits, contending, “If the issue is are we fairly compensating Police Officers, one should look nationally. Basically, the national cities pay on average $120,000 total cost. We pay $178,000 total cost,” or nearly 50 percent more.

What Wasn’t Included

Those numbers don’t include benefits the PBA listed in its chart dealing with police forces ranging from the State Troopers to cops in nearby New Jersey cities such as training pay, education pay, language pay, physical-fitness stipends and geographic pay.

But Mr. Linn said that based on the city’s current offer that conforms to the uniformed-union pattern, a Police Officer with at least 5½ years’ service who therefore was at maximum salary would have total direct compensation—which includes salary, longevity benefits, shift differentials, holiday pay and uniform allowance—exceeding $100,000, with other fringe-benefit costs topping $107,000.

The latter benefits include health-and-welfare fund pay­ments, annuity payments, retiree health coverage, Social Security, Medi­care, pensions, and VSF payments of $12,000 a year to cops who retire after at least 20 years’ service. Mr. Linn said, “We think that the city’s pension benefit is also a benefit that is superior to the national cities.” He noted that the VSF is unique to the city.

What is noteworthy about the PBA’s numbers—even as Mr. Linn said that both they and the comparison to neighboring jurisdictions were “squarely incorrect”—is that the pay gap with other cities is so great despite the victories that Mr. Lynch and his predecessors won in bargaining and particularly in arbitration for incumbent officers at the expense of cops who hadn’t yet been hired.

Part of the discrepancy stems from the fact that in many of those other jurisdictions, there aren’t the longstanding bargaining relationships among different employee groups, such as between cops and Firefighters here, that limit how much the city can afford to pay Police Officers because of the ripple effect in other areas of the municipal payroll.

Less Bold Than USA

But it’s also true that the union has historically been unwilling to go down the path of, for example, the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, which 35 years ago agreed to have its members work two to a collection truck rather than the standard three-person crews in return for a 33-percent share of the savings the city realized due to the staff cut. And those shift differentials are only paid to SanWorkers who are doing the collection work, not those assigned to other duties.

Mr. Lynch, heading an organization that doesn’t even include “union” in its name, has been more of an old-line trade-unionist than many of his colleagues when it comes to resisting special differentials tied to assignments. He moved away from that stance last year in seeking bonuses based on patrol status and college degrees, but those demands were part of a kitch­en-sink package that in the confines of an arbitration proceeding were virtually assured of not getting serious consideration by the panel.

One of his contemporaries, Randi Weingarten, who became president of the UFT in 1997 and stayed there until late 2009, when she departed to devote all her energies to running its national union, was able to cobble together gains for her rank and file beyond the chains of pattern bargaining by making concessions on matters including slightly longer hours, transfer rights and discipline. This produced a fair amount of grum­bling from opposition within her union but never threatened her control of it or that of her hand-picked successor, Mike Mulgrew. And in addition to the extra pay she was able to gain in return, she produced pension improvements including a Tier 5 deal near the end of her tenure that left newer members in better shape than their PBA counterparts.

Counting on Cuomo?

Mr. Lynch may be hoping that the gains he made in arbitration in 2002, very possibly with the help of a nod and a wink from a friendly Governor, can be duplicated this time around given his strong relationship with Andrew Cuomo and the latter gentleman’s fondness for sticking it to Mr. de Blasio whenever possible. But that old history might leave the city more inclined not to agree to a panel chair who could tilt an award without worrying about future impact on his or her business. And any break in the pattern could hurt the Governor’s standing among the other uniformed unions.

Beyond the personal tensions between Mr. Lynch and both Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Linn, there are strong reasons for the city officials to be vigilant about protecting the wage pattern they’ve created, not least of them the watchful eyes of those unions. And so if the PBA is serious about finding a way to break through on its members’ behalf rather than just continuing the recent cycle of buck­ing the odds and then acting outraged when it winds up on the short end of a predictable outcome, its best hope would seem to be to take some chances in what it’s willing to throw into the pot in return for more money.