Feb. 6, 2016 : 10:30 am
By RICHARD STEIER
|CONCLUDED TRADE-OFF WAS WORTH IT: Although two other police-union leaders criticized his decision to cover the cost of a 2.25-percent ‘neighborhood-policing differential’ by ‘selling out the unborn,’ Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said that increase beyond the uniformed-union pay pattern ‘gets us on the road to a market rate of pay’ and allowed the union to avoid another crap-shoot in arbitration. Photo: The Chief-Leader/Michel Friang|
Mayor de Blasio Jan. 31 described the terms of the tentative Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association contract, which include a 2.25-percent pay increase above the city bargaining pattern that’s connected to the neighborhood-policing initiative, improved disability benefits for officers hired after 2009, and the requirement that all patrol cops by 2019 be equipped with body cameras, as “a moment of tremendous transformation in the NYPD.”
What made the numbers work for the city as well as the PBA, however, was a throwback to their past dealings: a reduced salary schedule for new hires that was designed to offset the cost of the additional pay raise in the five-year deal.
Cancels Out ‘Extra’ Toll
Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn said as much during the City Hall press conference announcing the pact, telling reporters that “savings from new hires is about equivalent to that amount” that the city would spend to cover the 2.25-percent extra pay hike beyond the 9-percent raise that matches what was agreed to by all other city uniformed unions for the same period.
Other police-union leaders questioned the decision by PBA President Patrick J. Lynch—with whom they have clashed more than once over bargaining tactics during the past dozen years—to agree to a scale-back of the salary progression for officers hired after mid-March for the first 5½ years of their careers before they would make a huge jump upon marking that tenure from $51,000 to $85,292, which would be the new maximum for all officers if the contract were ratified.
Captains’ Endowment Association President Roy Richter said in a phone interview the day after the deal was announced that while he was “very happy to see Police Officers are finally getting a raise,” he was dismayed that the added hike was “paid for by selling out the unborn. What they did to the salary scale for officers is extremely concerning in terms of what it may do to the agency over the next five years.”
Noting that the slow progression from the new starting salary of $42,500—which is $319 below what it is under the union’s current contract, which actually expired Aug. 1, 2012—Mr. Richter argued that the reduced intermediate steps on the pay scale would leave officers making not that much more than $20 an hour at a point when “McDonald’s workers will be getting $15 an hour.”
Early Steps Baby-Size
That new starting salary does not include the 2.25-percent differential, nor do the other steps on the reduced pay scale, which would be $45,000 after 18 months in the job, $46,000 after 2½ years, $47,000 a year later, and $51,000 a year after that.
By way of comparison, incumbent officers still on the pay scale, including those who just recently entered the Police Academy, would go to $48,666 after 18 months’ service, to $54,394 at 2½ years, to $59,401 upon marking 3½ years’ service and to $63,125 a year after that before making the smaller-but-still-substantial leap to top pay at 5½ years on the job.
One uniformed-union leader, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said, “The ‘unborn’ are funding the contract.”
And Michael J. Palladino, the head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, in an email referred to the practice of negotiating contracts in which savings to the city are greatest when the turnover is high, as tends to be the case in job titles like Police Officer and Correction Officer, in criticizing both Mr. Linn—who began that practice for the city during his previous tenure as Mayor Ed Koch’s chief negotiator—and Mr. Lynch.
He said that Mr. Linn’s “fascination with emasculating the unborn is hard to understand, but once the city opened that door I expected the PBA to go through it.”
Mr. Linn originally had not looked for such a sharp reduction in the salary scale, although a proposal he made to the PBA in late December would have required new officers to work six years before reaching maximum salary. But that offer confined the neighborhood-policing bonus to officers assigned to patrol duties. Once Mr. Lynch insisted that it be given to his entire bargaining unit of nearly 24,000 members, greater savings on the pay scale were needed to keep the city’s costs consistent with its other uniformed-union deals, as well as a reduction in the differential—which counts as part of base salary and is pensionable—from a flat $2,500 to the percentage of salary.
For cops at maximum, the 2.25-percent boost would come to about $1,900 a year, effective March 15. For new cops it would be about $950.
As part of the package, the union gained the virtual certainty of a significantly improved disability benefit for all members hired after 2009, the year that then-Gov. David Paterson vetoed a perennial bill that since the early 1980s had placed new cops and Firefighters in Tier 2 of the pension system.
Officers hired beginning in 2010 were relegated to Tier 3, which offered a vastly inferior disability payment: under Tier 2 those who suffered career-ending injuries on the job had been entitled to 75 percent of final average salary, tax-free, but Tier 3 provided just 50 percent of final average salary and it was taxable and further subject to reduction based on any Social Security disability payments being received.
The city as part of the new contract has agreed to support legislation that would give the newer officers the Tier 2 disability terms, while requiring them to contribute an additional 1-percent of their salaries to the Police Pension Fund to partly cover the cost of the improved benefit. Last spring, when legislation was approved for an upgraded disability benefit for Firefighters that was subsequently signed into law by Governor Cuomo, a similar bill for the PBA foundered because of a disagreement over the additional amount that affected Police Officers should have to contribute to their pensions.
City Had Wanted 1.5%
Firefighters are required to pay an added 2 percent of salary. The city sought to have Police Officers pay an extra 1.5 percent, but the PBA objected, saying that because its members in the past used the disability benefit far less often than Firefighters, they should have to contribute no more than .4 percent of their salaries to fund it. Under the new contract terms, those covered would pay 1 percent of their salaries above the standard 3-percent pension contribution. The city’s support for the legislation on those terms virtually guarantees it becoming law, since Assembly Democrats had opposed it last year only out of deference to the Mayor, and Mr. Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan more than once chided the city over not offering the greater protection to injured cops who came on the job beginning in 2010.
Big Back Pay Due
One particularly welcome aspect of the contract for incumbent officers is that the delay in reaching terms, which is a combination of Mayor Bloomberg’s refusal to negotiate raises that weren’t entirely offset by union concessions during his last term in office and acrimonious bargaining between the de Blasio administration and the PBA over the past three years, means that the entire 9-percent raise is already past due. Back pay that has accrued going back to Aug. 1, 2012 is expected to exceed $15,000 for Police Officers who are at maximum salary, with the average retroactive payout totaling $12,235.
The raises, consistent with the uniformed-union pattern, are 1 percent retroactive to both Aug. 1, 2012 and Aug. 1, 2013, 1.5 percent as of Aug. 1, 2014, 2.5 percent effective Aug. 1, 2015, and 3 percent dating back to last Aug. 1.
Even with the help of mediator Kevin B. Flanigan, Deputy Director of Conciliation for the state Public Employment Relations Board, lack of progress in talks between the two sides had led Mr. Lynch on Jan. 27 to send a letter to his members informing them that he was about to request a declaration from PERB that it was necessary to begin an arbitration proceeding, which would have been the fifth time in six negotiations during his nearly 18 years as PBA president that a third-party’s intervention was sought.
‘City Had to Do More’
But a mediation session that began late in the afternoon of Jan. 30 generated enough movement as it crept into the following morning that the two sides continued talking and finally reached a deal about 4 a.m. Union sources said the final three hours of that marathon session were when most of the obstacles to a deal were swept aside, with one of them contending the key had been “a willingness [by the city] to negotiate in good faith. A recognition they had to do more for our members.”
Mr. Lynch told reporters that the 2.25-percent differential was an acknowledgement by the city of the unique nature of the job his members are now performing, including “the added responses, the scrutiny we’re under, the life-saving techniques” they deploy, including administering Naloxone to those suffering opioid overdoes, which has become a growing concern here over the past couple of years.
He said that added money “gets us on the road to a market rate of pay,” although it will still leave city cops significantly behind the salaries paid to officers in Nassau and Suffolk counties, often for performing less-demanding jobs. City officials for decades have argued that other compensation, including a Variable Supplements Fund for retirees based on pension-fund stock-market profits that now totals $12,000 a year and is paid in no other jurisdiction, largely close the salary divide when it comes to total compensation, but Mr. Lynch has strongly disagreed.
One of the biggest gains for the city, Mr. de Blasio made clear, was the portion of the pact under which the city would be able to expand the number of officers wearing body cameras while on patrol from the 1,000 now doing it under a pilot program to 5,000 by July 2018, with all Police Officers on patrol required to wear them by the end of 2019. As part of the deal, the PBA agreed to withdraw a lawsuit it had filed against the use of the body cameras, as well as one in which it objected to being included in a deal reached by the Municipal Labor Committee to provide billions of dollars of health-care savings to the city, even though the MLC has been the bargaining agent for city unions on health-benefit issues for the past 40 years.
During the mediation, which in its late stages was also assisted by veteran arbitrator Martin F. Scheinman, the city at one point offered a 1-percent raise for all cops who participated in the body-camera program, but that was withdrawn during the final negotiations in order to keep the costs of the pact from exceeding the uniformed pattern.
“What we got to in the end addresses so many things simultaneously,” the Mayor said. Besides tying up loose ends through the withdrawal of the lawsuits, he was referring to the accords on compensating cops for neighborhood policing and their donning the body cameras as part of “a big step forward for a vision of safety in which police and community are true partners.”
Not incidentally, the PBA deal brought the city up to date on contracts for what he described as “over 99 percent” of its workforce, with skilled-trades titles covered by the prevailing-wage laws the most-notable group still working under expired pacts. And that had clear political significance for Mr. de Blasio as he seeks a second term, since the PBA has been his most-prominent union critic. Assuming the deal is ratified by its rank and file, it would no longer have reason to bludgeon the Mayor through both public criticism of his spending priorities and its demonstrations, most recently outside the Park Slope YMCA where he works out most mornings.
From Mr. Lynch’s standpoint, the deal provides valuable gains not just in the form of the pay differential and the improved disability benefit, but through a terminal-leave benefit—already obtained by other uniformed unions in this bargaining round—permitting his members to cash in any unused leave time when they retire.
While he might have been able to get more in arbitration, as he had been able to do for incumbents at the expense of future officers in arbitration cases in 2005 and 2008, the union’s previous try in that forum ended badly 15 months ago when panel chairman Howard Edelman awarded just two 1-percent raises—matching the first two years of the uniformed-union pattern—with no fringe-benefit gains.
Long, High-Risk Gamble
Because under PERB’s rules no arbitration can cover more than two years unless both parties agree, such a proceeding, which would probably have run at least until the end of the year, would have prolonged the conflict into the heart of the mayoral campaign. That could have proved very uncomfortable for the Mayor, but more than likely would have ended with Police Officers working under a contract that would have been more than three years out of date for the slim chance of finding an arbitrator willing to ignore the uniformed pattern.
Mr. Lynch, asked about the protests, which date back to November 2015 and the disappointing arbitration award that led to rallies outside both Gracie Mansion and Mr. Edelman’s Upper East Side apartment, said, “We wanted to get the Mayor and his staff to focus on our contract. We think it worked.”
Mr. Linn said he disagreed with the old maxim that proof of a fair contract is that both sides seem a bit unhappy, saying, “A good settlement is when both sides walk away and feel they have met important interests and solved problems.”