Wall Street Journal

Feb. 1, 2017 6:25 p.m.


How New York’s Police Union Negotiated Its Latest Contract

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association used protests, advertising and political pressure ahead of a re-election year

By MARA GAY

Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association of the City of New York, addressed media following the arraignment of Tyrone Howard for the shooting death of New York Police Officer Randolph Holder at the Manhattan criminal court in New York, Oct. 21, 2015.  PHOTO: ANDREW KELLY/REUTERS

New York City’s police union has stood outside Mayor Bill de Blasio’s gym demanding higher pay for officers, launched a seven-figure advertising push to criticize the mayor, and flirted with backing his opponent in his re-election campaign.

Then, on Monday, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association got a phone call: Mr. Blasio was finally ready to make a deal on the long-sought contract, according to union officials and people close to the deal.

The offer was generous, with a higher pay raise than other city unions, and a 2.25% bonus the mayor said was tied to “neighborhood policing.” One senior PBA official said the bonus hadn’t been on the table as late as last week.

The deal comes as Mr. de Blasio prepares for a re-election bid this year. It is likely to put at least a temporary end to visible and often bitter protests of the mayor by the PBA that have marred his first term.

“We’ve talked about how great it would be to get to a place where the cops aren’t out protesting, how great it would be for the city and for the mayor,” one person close to the negotiations on the union side said.

A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said, “The only thing sillier than someone anonymous saying a few guys outside the mayor’s gym once and a while affected the mayor’s thinking about a police contract is printing in the newspaper the suggestion that a few guys outside the mayor’s gym once and a while might have affected the mayor’s thinking about a police contract.”

The blistering campaign against the mayor has been lead by PBA President Patrick Lynch, as well as strategists from Tusk Strategies, a consulting firm owned by Bradley Tusk, a campaign manager for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at CUNY Hunter, said Mr. de Blasio saw signing a new contract as an opportunity to make inroads with the city’s rank-and-file officers, among whom he is unpopular, ahead of this year’s election.

“The mayor had his hand forced by the political calendar and by these tactics,” Mr. Sherrill said. “He knows the way they can demonstrate. I think he has to be really worried.”

The nearly 24,000-member union, long a player in city politics, played a central role in what some close to Mr. de Blasio consider to be the darkest days of his administration. That was when thousands of police officers turned their backs on the mayor at the funerals of two police officers gunned down by a man who had made antipolice remarks over two years ago.

PBA President Patrick Lynch blamed Mr. de Blasio for the deaths, saying the mayor had blood on his hands because of comments he made after a grand jury failed to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner. The mayor said he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, have had to “train” his biracial son in how to handle encounters with police.

Mr. de Blasio has worked hard in recent years to repair the rift between him and the city’s police officers. But he said he wouldn’t retract the remarks about his son. “Things that I have said that I believe are what I believe—and you can’t apologize for your fundamental beliefs,” he said in 2015.

The five-year labor contract, which includes nearly 12% in pay increases, is retroactive, and covers the years 2012 through 2017. It expires July 31.

One senior PBA official said the union expected to be back at the negotiating table as early as April.

Asked whether there were immediate plans to keep protesting outside Mr. de Blasio’s gym, this person said, “not tomorrow.”

Write to Mara Gay at mara.gay@wsj.com