Feb. 6, 2016 : 10:30 am


Razzle Dazzle

An Old, Familiar Story: ‘Unborn’ Fix PBA Pact

WAS IT SOMETHING HE SAID?: Mayor de Blasio said the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association contract deal represented ‘a very good day for New York City,’ but you wouldn’t have known it by the faces of PBA First Vice President John Puglissi (to Mayor’s immediate right) and President Pat Lynch. The union was able to gain a 2.25-percent raise above the uniformed-union pattern, but it would be funded by sharp reductions in the pay scale for future officers. Photo: Chief-Leader/Michel Friang

Once a Jan. 27 mediation session, as Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch put it in a letter to his members later that day, “produced no further progress towards a negotiated settlement, we have advised the mediator and the City that we intend to file a petition for interest arbitration.”

This was hardly earth-shaking news, given that four of the five previous contracts reached since Mr. Lynch became head of the union in 1999 were decided in arbitration.

Yet by the time the weekend was over, the two sides were back late last Monday afternoon for a final try with the help of two mediators. The two parties kept talking past midnight, and around 1 a.m., according to one union official, some of that long-sought progress was being made. Three hours later, a deal was reached; 12 hours after that, it would be announced at City Hall in a rare instance in which Mr. Lynch and Mayor de Blasio were standing together and reasonably happy about it.

Other police-union leaders decried the way in which the union was able to generate the 2.25-percent neighborhood-policing differential that was the key to the deal from Mr. Lynch’s standpoint, offering him something to bring back to his members that went beyond the 9-percent raises over a five-year period that most city uniformed unions had negotiated more than two years earlier. The objections by Captains’ Endowment Association President Roy Richter and his counterpart at the Detectives’ Endowment Association, Mike Palladino, were that the PBA leader had stretched out his pay scale, reducing salaries early on for yet-to-be-hired Police Officers, to produce extra money that would primarily benefit cops already on the job.

Unpleasant Memories Won’t Haunt This Time

The only good thing about this tactic, from their point of view, was that they already had deals in hand and wouldn’t be forced to contort themselves to match the pay hikes, as other uniformed-union leaders had been forced to do in the past, twice in following Mr. Lynch, and two earlier times when Phil Caruso was the PBA president.

The first time Mr. Caruso did it in 1988, negotiating with Bob Linn, who was acting on behalf of Mayor Ed Koch, the fallout was severe for leaders of both police and fire unions who had to try to match wage and longevity gains while forced to make additional givebacks because their members’ lower attrition rates meant the longevity benefits cost the city more for those groups.

Jim Gebhardt, who back then headed the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, flinched at the prospect of having to sacrifice the interests of cops who hadn’t yet been promoted into his bargaining unit to keep pace on behalf of those who had, memorably remarking, “The unborn will grow big enough to eat me.”

His words proved prophetic in his very next election, as he and most of those other longtime union presidents found themselves cast out of office largely because of votes against them by new members who had gotten screwed by their contracts.

Mr. Palladino’s predecessor at the DEA, trying to minimize the pain for future members of the union, made concessions primarily in the form of time rather than reduced benefits, lengthening contracts so that the union wound up in a bargaining cycle that was a year behind the PBA’s. That meant essentially 12 months in which no raise could be negotiated for any of the rank and file, whether veterans in the rank or newcomers.

Didn’t ‘Stretch’ Pledge

Resentment flared again in 2005, by which time Mr. Palladino had become head of the union, when Mr. Lynch was given the go-ahead by other uniformed-union leaders to cut the first deal based on his pledge that he would not negotiate terms that included a pay-scale stretch. He lived up to the letter of that pledge: the stretch came through an arbitration award in late spring rather than collective bargaining, and is best remembered for the reduction in starting salary for Police Officers from $36,878 to $25,100 in order to reduce the costs to the Bloomberg administration of two 5-percent raises.

This created a recruiting problem for the NYPD, and was blamed by some officials for the number of people hired over the next three years who got into trouble and, it turned out, had prior histories that would have disqualified them from consideration if the department hadn’t been so desperate for live bodies.

The other police unions were forced to make concessions that created headaches for their new members and their presidents that were so extreme that since that deal, other uniformed-union leaders have taken the lead in negotiating contracts that set patterns rather than gambling that Mr. Lynch would live up to the spirit as well as the letter of assurances not to box them in.

The PBA’s philosophy, explicitly stated during Mr. Lynch’s time in office and implicitly followed during the latter half of Mr. Caruso’s 15-year tenure, has been that the union negotiates for the officers it is representing, not those who later will be hired by the NYPD and join its bargaining unit.

And so stretches of the pay scale that harm the unborn but produce bigger increases in pay and benefits for incumbents have been nearly as popular as going to arbitration over the past three decades: last week’s tentative deal marks the fifth time in the last 10 contracts that the pay scale has been stretched; seven of those 10 pacts were decided in arbitration.

Broadened Gap to ‘Max’

Prior to the first stretch, starting pay for Police Officers equaled nearly 80 percent of maximum salary, which they reached after three years on the job; that stretch required new hires to work five years before reaching top pay, and the starting salary became 66 percent of the maximum rate. If last week’s deal is ratified, new cops will start at $42,500, slightly less than half the new maximum of $85,292, with the time needed to qualify for top pay remaining at the 5½ years that it became under the 2005 arbitration award.

There is a clear political rationale, in the short term, for such stretches: they produce more money for cops already on the job, and those who are hurt have not yet been hired and could not vote out the incumbent union leadership until they became numerous enough to tip the balance among the electorate. Mr. Lynch has been nimble enough, or else sufficiently astute in keeping member anger focused against Mayor Bloomberg after the two stretches in arbitration, to avoid the long-term reprisals that Mr. Gebhardt and other uniformed-union leaders suffered from their unborn.

But there is also a practical rationale that can be used to convince newer members that the stretch was a necessary tactic that will hurt them in the short term but, by boosting compensation for the entire bargaining unit over the long run, will benefit them if they remain in the entry rank for an entire career.

It’s just that there’s undeniable suffering they’ll have to absorb along the way. Under the 2005 arbitration, new hires were scheduled to receive $48,000 less during their first six years on the job than they would have if they’d joined the NYPD shortly before the award was reached. That wound up being reduced somewhat through a 2008 arbitration, which improved the pay scale while bringing up the miserable starting salary but covered a good part of the cost by reducing fringe benefits such as vacation time for future hires.

$36,000 Less Early On

Under this deal, future hires will get about $36,000 less during their first six years of employment than if they had been part of the class of recruits currently in the Police Academy. Should they remain in the NYPD for the next 20 years—and under pension changes made beginning in 2009, they would need to serve at least 22 years to qualify for a full pension and 25 to be entitled to cost-of-living adjustments—they would wind up better off than if the PBA had not gotten the 2.25-percent neighborhood-policing supplement to their salaries.

Those who left early, however, to take jobs in the suburbs where the salaries are considerably higher, would be out of luck under this deal. Thomas P. Cunningham, a retired NYPD Captain and an outspoken contributor to this newspaper’s letters pages, said in a Feb. 2 phone interview that the impact of this contract being ratified would be that “the department is now a recruiting pool for other departments throughout the country.”

His union president, Mr. Richter, invoked both testimony before the Knapp Commission nearly a half-century ago and some of the embarrassing hires during the period after starting salary plummeted to $25,100 a dozen years ago in expressing concerns about what a largely stagnant pay scale for the first 4½ years of future officers’ careers “may do to the agency over the next five years.”

‘Still Be Able to Recruit’

One veteran union official with no stake in the outcome of the PBA deal said, however, that he didn’t believe the new starting salary and pay scale would have nearly as drastic an effect on attracting candidates who were both qualified and of good character as the 2005 city arbitration blunder had.

“I still think you’re going to be able to recruit at that salary,” he said, because compensation was attractive enough for officers who stuck around long enough to reach maximum pay to regard it as a good career investment. Pointing to the combination of other benefits including longevity differentials and holiday pay totaling more than $10,000 for those with 5½ years experience, and guaranteed overtime work, he remarked, “Which [other] civil servant who’s hired today after 5½ years is gonna be at $100,000?”

There are other elements in the package that figure to be attractive to future hires, as well as those who came on after 2009 and have been stuck with an inferior disability benefit for career-ending injuries prior to this deal. The city has agreed to support a bill providing those newer cops with the same disability pension equaling 75 percent of final average salary, tax-free, in return for an additional 1-percent-of-salary contribution to the Police Pension Fund by all post-2009 hires.

There has also been an adjustment in vacation schedules under the pact that could make the early years in the job more tolerable for future cops. This, too, comes with a stretch: it would now take seven years, rather than six, for future hires to qualify for the maximum of 27 annual vacation days. But they would be entitled to 12 vacation days during their second year of work, compared to the current 10 days, and would get four additional vacation days spread over their next three years of service—14, 14 and 15—beyond the 13 per year for that period at present, before going to 21 days for their sixth year and 27 a year later.

The element of the neighborhood-policing payment that raised eyebrows among reporters at the Blue Room press conference announcing the deal was that it would be paid to every cop represented by the PBA, including those whose assignments do not place them in contact with the public. There is a trade-union reason for Mr. Lynch insisting that the differential be paid across the board, as well as a political one: cops working desk jobs rather than responding to radio calls or interacting with people along their beats have a lot more time available to make their displeasure known to union officials.

Going Wide Cut Payment

Spreading the payment that wide had the effect of reducing what the city was willing to pay in that and other areas because of the additional cost that would have brought the value of the deal above what other uniformed unions received. In December, the city made an offer in mediation of a $2,500 bonus, but that would have been limited only to officers performing patrol duties. The broad-based differential of 2.25 percent of salary would give Police Officers at maximum salary a bit more than $1,900 a year once it took effect March 15; rookies would start out getting an extra $950.

There were two other upgrades Mr. Linn put on the table two months ago that got swept aside in order to make the differential payable to the entire bargaining unit: one for $750 a year to officers with at least a bachelor’s degree, and a 1-percent raise for all those donning the body cameras.

The benefits of the deal for the de Blasio administration are obvious: every major union has now signed onto a long-term contract, even though many of those—including the PBA’s—would begin expiring later this year. A ratified pact would also remove Mr. Lynch’s strongest incentive for continuing to picket the Mayor as he seeks re-election. Being able to secure the union’s cooperation on a plan to expand the NYPD body-camera program, with 5,000 patrol officers to be equipped with them by July of next year and the entire patrol force to be wearing them by the end of 2019, was both an important operational gain and an achievement that would help Mr. de Blasio make his case for another term with his political base.

Arbitration Pitfalls for PBA

There are certainly risks to both sides in going to arbitration—the 2005 case inflicted a double bite on then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, saddling him with raises well above what he had forced District Council 37 to take a year earlier and driving up what other uniformed unions were able to subsequently negotiate, while also creating NYPD recruiting problems for the next three years. Working this deal out with the help of the two mediators also allowed the city to target where additional money went and how the added benefits were offset, rather than having an arbitrator impose terms that might be problematic for one side or the other.

But the PBA and Mr. Lynch, having been so sorely disappointed in their first attempt to beat this uniformed-union pattern in a 2015 arbitration—when they wound up getting just the same two 1-percent increases the other unions received at the start of their seven-year deals—kept the prospect of being burned again by the latter years of that contract particularly fresh in their minds.

Under the rules of the Public Employment Relations Board, arbitration awards can’t go longer than two years unless both sides agree to an extension. The raises for the rest of the uniformed workforce in the third and fourth years of their deal were also 1 percent each time. It was humiliating enough to be held to that pattern once; the very real possibility of rolling Snake Eyes twice in the crapshoot that arbitration generally is had to be giving Mr. Lynch and his bargaining team a certain amount of agita.

This was particularly true because of the angry campaign the union waged against Mr. Edelman in the wake of his award 15 months ago. It was so over the top that 27 arbitrators statewide as a protest signed a letter asking that they not be considered for future cases involving the union because they believed its tactics had crossed the line. When Mr. Lynch filed a protest questioning Mr. Edelman’s judgment and integrity with the National Academy of Arbitrators, he received a stinging rebuke in reply stating that he, not Mr. Edelman, was the one who had been out of order.

Not Ideal Set-Up

Given the diminished pool of arbitrators willing to take on a PBA case, and the possibility that some of them shared their include-us-out colleagues’ belief that the union’s treatment of Mr. Edelman had been Trumpian—and not in a good way—the odds of Mr. Lynch finding an arbiter who would be as kindly disposed to the union’s case as the late Eric Schmertz was in 2005 were decidedly skimpy.

And so it’s not that hard to understand that, even after Mr. Lynch had informed members that he believed arbitration was the only feasible option for getting a fair contract, he wound up back in negotiations three days later that produced a deal that Mr. Linn described as allowing both parties to have “met important interests and solved problems.”

The fact that they did so at the expense of the unborn doesn’t figure to have a great effect on how the PBA rank and file reacts to the terms, if the past is any guide. Back in 1988, when the terms were sufficiently stacked against those not yet hired that incumbent cops received a package worth nearly 29 percent in added compensation for senior officers yet the cost to the city was just 18 percent, any complaints among the rank and file about creation of a two-tier pay scale were muffled by the shouts of joy.

Several years later, when the union was in arbitration after an angry negotiation with Mayor David Dinkins, I drove to three stationhouses in Brooklyn one Friday night to interview younger cops who had been among the unborn who took the worst of that 1988 deal to see how they would feel if the arbitration created new givebacks for those who would be following them into the job.

Put Self-Interest First

Although some said they would feel bad about it, they were unanimous in stating that if that was the way for them to get better treatment under the award, they were in favor of it. The gap between NYPD pay and that in Nassau and Suffolk counties—where compliant County Executives and legislatures that benefited from police-union political support had made getting whatever cops wanted in arbitration like shooting fish in a barrel—was beginning to widen, and these officers said that if future hires had to pay the price for them to try to keep up with suburban pay, they were willing to abide it.

The pay gap has grown considerably greater between the city and the departments to the east. Given Mr. Lynch’s inclination in the past that arbitration offered the best chance of getting the “market rate of pay” that he’s been chasing, his change of heart this time is likely to convince a majority of his rank and file that when push came to shove, he made a calculated decision and grabbed the best deal he thought he could get for them.