Chief-Leader

August 8, 2016: 7:00 p.m.


Contract Dispute Has PBA ‘Staking Out’ An Unusual Suspect

By RICHARD STEIER

GETTING THEIR FAIR SHARE OF FREE SPEECH: Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch leads members in demanding that Mayor de Blasio improve his contract offer while his rank and file holds up signs describing him as ‘Just Another Dumbell (sic) In The Gym.’

On two mornings last week, Mayor de Blasio had an unusually large police detail following him around, but most of them were there to censure him rather than serve and protect.

Contingents of off-duty officers led by Patrolmen’s Be­nevolent Association officials got up-close-and-personal with the Mayor during his morning routine that takes him from Gracie Mansion to the Park Slope YMCA, where he has his morning workout, to the coffee shop he favors in that neighborhood, trying to embarrass him into giving them improved contract terms while chanting, “Work out later, pay us now,” and “One-term Mayor!”

An Ongoing Battle

It is an old, familiar conflict, one that is unlikely to be resolved by the public pressure tactics. The union is seeking pay raises that exceed the pattern that provided 11-percent hikes over a seven-year period to the rest of the city’s uniformed unions. Mr. de Blasio is determined to protect that pattern in the name of bargaining stability and to keep the peace with those other unions. While it is rare to have police-union leaders back him on issues, given their ideological differences, this is one case in which, while they might not say it publicly, they may be rooting for him to prevail.

IT’S FUN TO CHANT AT THE YMCA: Mayor de Blasio gets an earful from off-duty cops outside the Prospect Park YMCA as they prod him to forsake his morning workout to work out a contract deal that would bring them closer to what Police Officers in neighboring jurisdictions are being paid. The Mayor has insisted that the union accept terms matching those that other uniformed unions negotiated, and the dispute is likely to wind up in arbitration.

On the same day in May 2014 that the de Blasio administration reached its first contract deal with a municipal union, the United Federation of Teachers, PBA President Pat Lynch showed his unhappiness with the pattern it created by filing for arbitration. By the time his contract dispute came before a three-person panel, however, the Mayor and his Labor Relations Commissioner, Robert W. Linn, had solidified the pattern with a December 2014 deal with a coalition of uniformed unions that offered 1 percent more over seven years than the UFT had gotten for the corresponding period.

Outrage But No Surprise

And so when the PBA panel chairman, Howard Edelman, last fall awarded union members two 1-percent increases, matching what those unions had negotiated in the first two years of their deals (under the rules of the state Public Employment Relations Board, arbitration awards cannot exceed two years in duration unless both sides agree to an extension), it didn’t come as a surprise.

That didn’t prevent Mr. Lynch from being outraged, and he launched a campaign publicly questioning Mr. Edel­man’s integrity and labeling him a tool of both the “1 percent” and the Mayor. That prompted 27 other arbitrators to send letters to PERB and the city Office of Collective Bargaining requesting that they not be considered for future cases involving the PBA. Mr. Lynch responded by making a complaint against Mr. Edelman to the National Academy of Arbitrators, but got no satisfaction there, either—the head of its disciplinary panel responded that if anyone was behaving inappropriately, it was the union leader in an attempt at intimidation.

While the war of words was playing out, the union and the city were having occasional contract meetings in which little progress was made, with the PBA insisting on being given “a market rate” that would raise sal­aries well beyond the terms accepted by other uniformed unions to move its members’ pay closer to what was being earned by cops in neighboring jurisdictions, while Mr. Linn held firm to the existing pattern, which in this case would correspond to the remaining five years on the pacts of the other uniformed unions and would provide 9 percent in raises.

‘Market-Rate’ Case

The PBA has argued that none of its uniformed counterparts suffers from the same salary disparity with other jurisdictions as exists for entry-level officers here and those in the Greater New York area, which it said is true not only for affluent Long Island counties but in New Jersey cities whose budg­et struggles are greater than New York’s. By the end of June, when the union concluded its argument was not swaying the Mayor and Mr. Linn, it asked PERB for a declaration of impasse. That is the first step in triggering a process that would begin with a mediator trying to close the gap between the two sides and, if unsuccessful, lead to the selection of an arbitration panel consisting of one representative for each side and a neutral member who would chair the proceedings.

It wasn’t clear why, more than a month later, no ruling had been made on the impasse request: a call to PERB Executive Director Anthony Zumbolo last week was not returned. But the PBA clearly had grown impatient, with Mr. Lynch telling reporters outside Gracie Mansion Aug. 2 that it wanted the Mayor “to support New York City police officers, pay us as professionals, staff us properly and equip us so we can equip ourselves and protect the public as well. He’s refused to do that.”

City Noncommittal

Mr. Linn declined comment on what the union indicated would be an occasional bit of street theatre rather than a daily occurrence, and a spokeswoman for the Mayor said he remained eager to negotiate a long-term deal with the union (although, she left unsaid, on terms that Mr. Lynch has already denounced as unacceptable).

It is not the first time that the PBA has sought to disconcert a Mayor by following him to his public appearances during Mr. Lynch’s 17 years as president. During Michael Bloomberg’s first term as Mayor, it joined with the Uniformed Firefighters Association in trailing him to both business meetings and lunches, with members of both unions chanting their displeasure with his unwillingness to give them what they considered fair contracts.

Mr. Bloomberg did not give in; ironically, his tough posture with another major city union inadvertently wound up helping the PBA’s cause. In 2004, District Council 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts, facing heat from dissidents who at the time comprised a majority on her union’s board, proclaimed that she was “desperate” to get a contract deal.

A short time later she agreed to terms with Mr. Bloomberg that critics said proved her desperation. It began with a one-year wage freeze and its overall terms were inferior to those recently negotiated by the Civil Service Employees Association—which like DC 37 is an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—even though the city was in better financial shape than the state, where the CSEA represents a large portion of the workforce.

A Bargaining Vacuum

Other city unions, convinced she had settled too cheaply, balked at accepting similar terms. And so when the PBA entered arbitration later that year, there wasn’t a string of city unions under contract that might be used against the union’s bid for far-better terms, and the panel chairman, Eric Schmertz, publicly expressed his belief that the DC 37 deal did not constitute a meaningful pattern. And so, where the DC 37 deal began with a $1,000 bonus that was not rolled into salary instead of a pay hike and contained a 3-percent raise in its second year, Mr. Schmertz awarded incumbent officers two 5-percent raises.

Some late and furious lobbying by the Bloomberg administration got him to offset the cost of those raises in part by sharply reducing both starting salaries and the pay scale for future officers, with the entry-level pay plummeting by more than $10,000 from the rate until then of more than $36,000. Despite the savings this produced, it proved an additional headache for the NYPD: reluctance by many qualified candidates to take a job that paid them $26,000 to start created a recruitment problem that was not stemmed until three years later, when starting pay was brought up to nearly its old level, although vacation schedules for new cops were reduced to offset the city’s costs in doing that.