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A LONG RIDE ALREADY, AND MORE GROUND TO COVER: Hearing dates have been set for the final month of the year and the first two weeks in January for the Police Benevolent Association, meaning that a process already delayed twice, most notably by the pandemic, might not produce new contract terms until next summer, five years after the 'current' wage deal expired.

A contract arbitration to replace a Police Benevolent Association pact that expired nearly four years ago is set to begin Nov. 30 and run through Jan. 12 after being delayed first by a serious illness suffered by the original mediator just before the process was to begin 18 months ago, and then by the coronavirus.

There are two uncertainties lingering even as both sides hope that the third time's a charm for finally settling the long-running dispute, which the state Public Employment Relations Board deemed was at an impasse in November 2017, less than four months after the Aug. 1 expiration date of the pact that continues in effect.

Format, Players Up in Air

Labor Commissioner Renee Campion said July 6—the same day that her agency joined other components of the de Blasio administration in ending the requirement that masks be worn in city officesthat no decision had yet been made on whether the hearings would take place in a traditional conference-room setting or be conducted remotely.

"It's undetermined for now," she said in a phone interview.

And by the time the last two hearings are held Jan. 11 and 12, a new mayoral administration will have taken office. It would be unusual to change the personnel involved in an arbitration while it was in progress, but there's no guarantee that Ms. Campion, as the city's top negotiator, and her predecessor as Labor Commissioner, Robert W. Linn, who is its representative on the three-person arbitration panel, will retain those roles under the next Mayor.

The other two panel spots figure to remain unchanged: Kenneth Feinberg, the PBA's representativewho is best known for his work heading the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fundand the neutral chairman, Martin Scheinman, who assumed that role shortly after John M. Donoghue was forced to withdraw due to illness in January 2020.

The battle lines will be familiar ones: the city's claim that holding a PBA award to the pattern already established in deals with other municipal uniformed unions, some representing cops in higher ranks maintained stability, vs. the union's case that its members are so far behind other cops in the New York area that they need significant raises well beyond that bargaining pattern.

Trooper Pay the Standard

What will be different will be the comparison point the union leans on: rather than citing major pay gaps that exist for its members compared to their counterparts in Nassau and Suffolk counties, as he often did in the past Mr. Lynch has made clear the union will peg its arguments to the growing divide with other cops assigned to New York City, especially State Troopers.

Under the most-recent Trooper contract, reached in the fall of 2018, even with relatively modest pay raises over a five-year period that ends next April 1, salaries are now $101,776 for officers with at least five years service, compared to $85,292 for NYPD cops under the expired pact, who reach top pay after 5.5 years in the job. 

That gap gets significantly wider, however, based on several differentials, a couple of which date back to the administrations of Govs. George Pataki and David Paterson for hazardous-duty pay and expanded-duty pay. Another was granted by Governor Cuomo for those based in New York City because of the higher cost of living here compared to upstate. Add those up, and throw in a longevity differential of $16,000 for the most-senior Troopers that is believed to be the highest in the nation, and total compensation for senior officers hits $140,679.

While retired Police Officers with at least 20 years on the job get an annual Variable Supplements Fund payment of $12,000 that is unique to city cops, firefighters and correction officers, the compensation gap for active officers would remain steep if the award adhered to the 7.95-percent wage pattern Ms. Campion set with a uniformed coalition in late 2019 that included a couple of other NYPD unions representing Lieutenants and Captains.

Familiar Route for Lynch

A PBA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the upcoming arbitration and whether Mr. Lynch would be willing to conduct it remotely if social-distancing requirements made it unfeasible for the case to be hashed out with everyone in the same room.

But unless a settlement is reached in the interimwhich seems unlikelythis would be the fifth time in seven contract negotiations the PBA leader has been involved in during his first 22 years in office that he would leave it to an outside panel to decide his members' fate. 

He has had mixed success in arbitration: while making good progress for incumbent officers in a couple of proceedings, some of the gains came at the expense of future cops, with starting salaries being raised by lesser percentages than raises for those already in the job, and the progression to maximum pay being slowed  to offset the city's costs for the gains made by incumbent officers.

The scheduled hearing dates are Nov. 30 through Dec. 2, Dec. 6 and 7, Dec. 17, and then Jan. 11 and 12, 2022. Once they're completed, both sides would submit written briefs making their final arguments, and the representatives of the PBA and the city would try to convince Mr. Scheinman that each had the most-compelling case.

It is not unusual for it to take six months from the time the oral arguments are concluded for an award to be issued, which means new raises might not be decided until roughly the time that the 5th anniversary of the expired pact arrives next August. 

And under PERB's rules, a contract award is limited to two years unless both sides agree to a longer duration, which creates the possibility that the award at the time it was reached could be three years out of date.         

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