Oct 31, 2016

Name Mediator in PBA Talks, But Both Sides Keep Trading Punches

Mayor Fighting Two-Front Police-Union War As SBA Stays on Attack


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Rips take-it-or-leave-it offer

Even as the first tentative step toward resolving a contract impasse between the city and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association was belatedly taken last week, Mayor de Blasio reignited hostilities with the union by claiming that it “refuses to negotiate” during an appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC-radio.

That claim brought an angry response from PBA President Patrick J. Lynch, who said it was the Mayor who was guilty of intransigence that ensured that “officers’ morale will remain at rock-bottom and their frustration will only grow.”

PERB Taps Flanigan

The clash made clear why the positive development in the bargaining stalemate—the appointment of a mediator to try to narrow their differences and avoid an arbitration proceeding—had been necessary. Kevin B. Flanigan, the Deputy Director of Conciliation for the state Public Employment Relations Board, was tapped Oct. 24—four months after the PBA asked PERB to declare a bargaining impasse—to see whether a compromise could be worked out without needing an arbitrator.

The last PBA contract was settled in arbitration a year ago, and the union reacted with fury when Howard Edelman, the chairman of a three-member panel that also included representatives designated by both the union and the city, rejected its request for a “market-rate” increase totaling 17 percent over two years. He instead awarded two 1-percent raises for that period, matching what other police unions had accepted from the de Blasio administration over the previous year.

The city is seeking to continue to make a PBA deal conform to the terms of the seven-year contracts it negotiated with other uniformed unions totaling 11 percent in raises. That would provide a 9-percent hike over a five-year period, which Mr. Lynch had insisted was unacceptable. The fact that the arbitration award last year covered a period that had already concluded more than three years earlier, on July 31, 2012, means that a significant amount of back pay for officers has already accrued, and the full 9 percent in raises would have taken effect by now had the two sides reached a deal.

It wasn’t clear whether Mr. de Blasio was aware of the mediator’s appointment when he spoke to Mr. Lehrer last Friday morning. But Mr. Lynch bristled at his accusation that it was the union holding up a resolution, saying in a statement, “He has offered periods of zero raises followed by miniscule increases that wouldn’t even keep up with the rate of inflation, despite the fact that our police officers are paid 34% less than officers locally and nationally. He says his door is always open, but ‘take it or leave it’ is not negotiation.”

An Inherited Headache

A large part of the reason for the Mayor’s tough stance in bargaining was the huge back-pay obligation that built up during the final term of his predecessor. Michael Bloomberg, citing the national fiscal meltdown of 2008, claimed that its residual effect on the city’s finances left him unable to give several city unions—including the largest one, the United Federation of Teachers—the same two 4-percent raises he previously agreed to with most labor groups, including the PBA. He also told the unions that he would not grant any raises whose costs were not offset by givebacks.

Those positions led union leaders to wait for a new Mayor, expecting that Mr. Bloomberg’s successor would understand the importance—from the city’s standpoint as well as labor’s—of honoring established bargaining patterns and the long tradition of granting back-pay when deals were reached beyond the expiration dates of previous contracts.

Mr. de Blasio’s first pact, in the spring of 2014 with the UFT, adhered to those two principles, but because the previously unpaid 4-percent raises to its members carried back-pay obligations of up to $55,000 for some of them, he required that the union accept modest increases for the final seven years of its nine-year deal.

Its agreement to do so created a bargaining pattern for that seven-year period that Mr. Lynch indicated was unacceptable on the day the UFT contract was announced by filing for arbitration, which produced last November’s award that the union vigorously protested.

Negotiator Noncommittal

Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn, asked about Mr. Lynch’s criticism of the Mayor’s bargaining position, said in a phone interview, “We look forward to sitting down and trying to work out a fair and reasonable settlement with the mediator and the union.”

The new sparks touched off by the Mayor’s comments on his weekly radio show leave him sharply at odds with the two-most-vocal NYPD unions.

Sergeants Benevolent Association President Edward D. Mullins, still angry over comments by Mr. de Blasio and Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill following the Oct. 18 fatal shooting of an emotionally disturbed woman by one of his members, last week ran a full-page ad in the Daily News and New York Post defending the Sergeant and calling the Mayor’s putting the onus on him and the NYPD “disgraceful.”

Crafted as a letter to “Fellow New Yorkers,” the ad defended Sgt. Hugh Barry, who it stated “did follow his training and the NYPD procedures” in the encounter with 66-year-old Deborah Danner that ended with him killing her after she picked up a baseball bat and allegedly swung it at him.

Put Barry on Spot

The Mayor less than 24 hours after the incident called her death “unacceptable.” Where Commissioner O’Neill in an earlier press conference used the phrase “we failed” to suggest the NYPD was collectively responsible for Ms. Danner’s death, Mr. de Blasio pointed a finger at Sergeant Barry, saying he had disregarded the protocol that requires patrol officers to defer to specially trained Emergency Services Unit officers in dealing with emotionally disturbed persons.

When Ms. Danner swung the bat at the Sergeant’s head “from a short distance in a confined space,” Mr. Mullins stated in the letter, “Sgt. Barry reasonably feared for his life and, consistent with his training, fired his weapon. What concerns all department members is the fact that the Commissioner and the Chief who spoke the loudest in proclaiming the incident a ‘failure’ are not familiar with their own Department’s procedural guidelines.”

After outlining them, Sergeant Mullins stated, “The sad truth is that Deborah Danner never got the help she needed, and struggled with her debilitating illness for many years. She had a well-documented history of violent incidents, and her neighbors were fearful of her. The police went to her apartment numerous times. Sadly, she was continuously passed through a system that failed her. The system has now failed Sgt. Barry. Mayor de Blasio’s choice to use Sgt. Barry and the NYPD as scapegoats for a flawed system is disgraceful.”

In making his remarks shortly after her death, Mr. de Blasio said that he believed it was essential to state some hard truths at a time when there was anger in parts of the city over the death of a black woman at the hands of a white cop.

Spoke Too Soon?

While there were some who defended his words last week as an attempt to soothe that anger and prevent any dem­onstrations following Ms. Danner’s death from turning violent, others joined Mr. Mullins in criticizing him for a rush to judgment before Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark examines the facts. She and possibly a grand jury will determine if criminal charges should be brought or that Sergeant Barry’s actions were justifiable because he had legitimate concern for his own safety when Ms. Danner came at him with the bat.

Among those not normally on Sergeant Mullins’s side who shared his view in this case was former New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Norman Siegel, who in an Oct. 25 phone interview said he believed both the Mayor and Commissioner O’Neill should have withheld judgment until the facts were in. Noting that Mr. de Blasio a week before the shooting had been the subject of a New York Times article in which some supporters complained that he had­n’t done enough to reform police operations, Mr. Siegel said of his pointed criticism of Sergeant Barry, “The perception is that what he’s doing is for political gain.”