August 15, 2016: 4:00 p.m.
By RICHARD STEIER
The disclosure by a conservative watchdog group that 94 percent of a group of 475 Mayor’s Office employees had gotten raises during the fiscal year that ended June 30, with 92 of them getting hikes of at least 10 percent, triggered a predictable response from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association Aug. 12: “Where’s ours?”
The city’s largest police union is the only one whose members are working under an expired contract: an arbitration award last November gave them a pair of 1-percent raises in a pact that, with an expiration date of Aug. 1, 2012, was obsolete at the time it was produced. Virtually every other uniformed union had reached terms over the preceding year featuring 11-percent raises for a seven-year period that expired in 2017 or later.
Bound for Arbitration
The PBA, which deemed those terms unacceptable, has already opted to go to arbitration again, a process that once again limits a potential award to two years unless both sides agree to an extension. It filed for a declaration of impasse in its talks with the city in late June, but Anthony Zumbolo, the Executive Director of the Public Employment Relations Board, said in an Aug. 11 phone interview that a mediator had yet to be appointed—the first step in trying to resolve the situation before an arbitration panel would be selected.
According to the records released by the Empire Center for Public Policy on that same day, most mayoral staffers got just a 2.5-percent raise during fiscal year 2016, matching what members of District Council 37 received as part of their 2014 contract deal. But the 92 who got significantly more, including one employee whose promotion from Office Assistant to Special Assistant produced a 142-percent hike from $38,121 to $92,250, and Mayor’s Press Secretary Monica Klein, whose greater responsibilities were accompanied by a pay bump from $90,000 to $125,000, provided ammunition for the PBA’s ongoing salary war with Mayor de Blasio.
Citing the justification provided by another mayoral spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein, for the more-generous hikes, PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement, “According to Mayor de Blasio’s own spokesperson, for the City of New York to ‘retain skilled staff, we need to offer competitive wages…’ We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. If Mayor de Blasio truly believes these words, he should work on closing the competitive pay gap for New York City police officers, who protect our streets every day while making 30% less than police officers elsewhere. Otherwise, he’s nothing more than a hypocrite.”
Looks to Protect Pattern
Just a week earlier, responding to a PBA campaign touched off by two days of off-duty cops following the Mayor from Gracie Mansion to his stops in Park Slope for a morning workout and coffee to press him for fairer treatment at the bargaining table, Ms. Goldstein had reiterated his willingness to reach a long-term deal to boost Police Officer pay. But Mr. de Blasio wants that deal to be consistent with what he negotiated with other uniformed unions, which would mean a 9-percent wage hike over a five-year period, matching the terms for the corresponding period of their seven-year agreements.
Mr. Lynch has made the argument that it is his members alone whose pay is not competitive with their counterparts in neighboring police departments, and so the city should let go of its embrace of pattern bargaining that dates back nearly a half-century in order to give Police Officers a “market-rate” increase. The arbitration-panel chairman last year, Howard Edelman, noting that the union was seeking a 17-percent raise over two years that was more than 50 percent higher than what other uniformed unions had accepted over seven, instead limited his award to the same 1-percent annual hikes featured at the start of those pacts.
It is not the first time that a Mayor’s raises for his own staffers well in excess of what he was offering in bargaining triggered union anger, nor is it the most-serious in its potential consequences. In late 1995, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani got the United Federation of Teachers to accept a deal that began with a two-year wage freeze before providing 10.75 percent in raises in the final three years of the pact. One ranking union official privately contended that the reason then-President Sandra Feldman agreed to those terms was that she was fearful that if she didn’t make the first deal of the bargaining round, DC 37, which had been threatened by Mr. Giuliani with up to 30,000 layoffs if it didn’t agree to a two-year pay freeze to help him cope with city budget problems, would have been inclined to take lesser raises at the back end of a deal that could limit the UFT’s options.
Aides’ Raises Rankled
Subsequent to reaching that tentative pact, however, Mr. Giuliani announced raises for a number of his key aides of nearly 30 percent. The disparity between his treatment of them and what he asked Teachers to endure triggered a rebellion by the UFT’s rank and file, which soundly rejected the tentative contract, in the process embarrassing Ms. Feldman and leaving Mr. Giuliani unwilling to resume negotiations for months afterwards.
He had gotten a break, however, when DC 37, prior to the UFT deal being torpedoed, agreed to similar terms, giving him a bargaining pattern to use in dealings with the rest of the municipal unions.
Aside from the frosty treatment Ms. Feldman got from City Hall, her rejected pact actually wound up working to her union’s advantage. When she told the Mayor’s negotiators she would not be able to sell a deal to her members that did not include some additional benefit beyond the terms they had voted down, they agreed to exempt Teachers from cafeteria duty, which many of them disliked and considered undignified.
The Mayor was willing to make that concession because replacing them as lunch monitors required more hiring of employees who would be represented by Local 372 of DC 37, which was his strongest backer within the larger union and whose president, Charlie Hughes, not long after was prominently featured in a campaign commercial Mr. Giuliani made during his 1997 re-election run.
By the time the UFT signed off on its adjusted deal, DC 37 had already ratified its pact, in what Federal prosecutors would later show was a rigged vote.
Sparked PBA Turmoil
The big loser in all those machinations, ironically, was the PBA. Its then-president, Lou Matarazzo, balked at similar terms and forced an arbitration proceeding, which at the time was under the jurisdiction of the city Office of Collective Bargaining. In September 1997, the arbitrators issued an award that, although it was slightly more-generous, giving cops 12-percent raises over a five-year period, also began with the two-year wage freeze other city unions had accepted.
Although the previous PBA president, Phil Caruso, in 1994 had accepted a 39-month deal that began with an 18-month freeze, it hadn’t spurred as much rank-and-file outrage because it featured a $4,000 bonus at its outset, which looked good but was to the city’s financial advantage because it had no impact on long-term salary costs and pension allowances. The 1997 arbitration award, which had no cash payment to dress it up, quickly became known as the “zeroes for heroes” contract, and Mr. Matarazzo and his fellow board members were blamed by rank-and-file cops for not having been more persuasive.
Paved Path for Lynch
That membership anger, in fact, was what propelled Mr. Lynch to victory in the next union election in 1999, where he defeated three members of the PBA board who sought the presidency, including the man who succeeded Mr. Matarazzo when he retired from the NYPD less than a year after the arbitration award, James “Doc” Savage.