City Correction Officers June 1 ratified a three-year contract containing 7.95 percent in raises, significant increases in longevity benefits and an $8.45-million boost in city contributions to the union's welfare fund, by a count of 2,540 in favor to 309 against, slightly more than two months after they voted down the initial deal made by the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association.
The swing of more than 2,600 votes without the reworked deal adding to the city's costs seemed attributable to two factors: union President Elias Husamudeen getting a clearer sense of what his members' priorities were, and the way those priorities were reshaped by fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
'Cleared Up Confusion'
"I feel we were able to clear up a lot of the confusion" surrounding the earlier deal, Mr. Husamudeen, who brought to fruition his first wage deal since becoming COBA's president nearly four years ago, said in a phone interview shortly after the vote count—in which 242 ballots were voided—was finalized.
The mixing-and-matching he did based on conversations with his rank and file in the wake of the earlier pact being rejected by more than 400 votes in late March focused heavily on upgrading the contribution to the union's welfare fund. The original agreement would have had the city contributing a lump sum of $3 million to the fund retroactive to Feb. 1, 2020, and another $2 million on the last day of the pact, Feb. 28, 2022. That deal also would have created a $3-million education fund to allow members to improve their chances of career advancement.
The latter issue became less important in light of the pandemic, while members grew more concerned about upgrading prescription-drug benefits at a time when the COBA president said their cost was going to rise by 18 percent. And so he forsook the education fund to use that money to buttress the city welfare-fund payments, which will now rise by $6 million retroactive to Feb. 1 and then by $2.45 million on the final day of the contract. Besides the lump-sum payments, there will be an additional $100-per-member increase in the city's welfare-fund contribution that is retroactive to this past Feb. 1, Mr. Husamudeen noted.
He said some of the money from the city payments would be used to improve other welfare-fund coverage in areas like optical and dental benefits.
A key upgrade that remained intact from the first deal is a boost of $365 in the annual longevity payment for COs with at least five years on the job and one of $1,277 additional for those with 20 years' service, both effective next June 1. The $365 upgrade will boost the longevity payment for five-year veterans to $4,730, with 10-year vets getting $5,730 and 15-year officers received $6,730. Combining that increase with the added $1,277 for 20-year vets will bring their annual benefit to $9,007.
The union got some of the funding for the improvements through a credit for agreeing to have members be outfitted with body cameras, a program already in effect for Police Officers.
A key element of that deal, Mr. Husamudeen said, was that before being questioned about use-of-force incidents, officers will be able to review footage from the body cameras to assist them in preparing their reports. The combination of the speed with which such incidents unfold and the adrenaline that consumes officers during them often makes it difficult for them to recall their actions as they happened, meaning that the chance to look at video would be an important component of recounting them accurately.
"This protects the officer," he explained, from facing charges for getting details wrong in situations where they had no intent to mislead.
The union agreed to give up a $104-per-member annuity-fund increase that was part of the rejected deal to help fund a shift in payment for the second-year raise, which was originally going to be delayed by three months. Under the ratified pact, the first 2.25-percent raise remains retroactive to March 1, 2019, the second one of 2.5 percent is retroactive to March 1, 2020, and a 3-percent hike will take effect June 1, 2021.
The first two raises will be reflected in paychecks members will receive next month, Mr. Husamudeen said. Implementation of the back pay they will have accumulated from the delayed raises, which would normally come in the paycheck following that one, will not occur until October—a price he said was required by Labor Commissioner Renee Campion because of the strain the impact of COVID-19 has placed on the city's finances.
Asked how he felt after finally steering a wage deal to passage—his first accord had also been initially voted against by union delegates, who said they had not been given sufficient time to study its details—Mr. Husamudeen said, "It's a big satisfaction to be able to do a contract," one which didn't require any givebacks.
Referring to the turnaround from the tally on the rejected deal, he added, "To go from almost 1,500 voting no to 309, I feel good about that."