The long-awaited contract arbitration between the Police Benevolent Association and the de Blasio administration, scheduled to begin Jan. 27, will be delayed another several months at least after John M. Donoghue, who had been chosen to chair the three-man panel, was forced to withdraw due to unspecified health issues.
Both sides said they would move quickly to select a replacement for Mr. Donoghue, a highly regarded neutral who has been used since 1972 by both the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the American Arbitration Association to settle labor disputes. He serves on permanent panels in a variety of industries including telecommunication, publications, media, agriculture and transportation.
‘Urgency on Both Sides’
“We’d look to move the process forward as quickly as we can,” city Labor Commissioner Renee Campion said in a Jan. 21 phone interview. A PBA spokesman said subsequently, “There is an urgency on the part of all the parties to bring this to a conclusion.”
In an e-mail to members, union President Patrick J. Lynch said, “We are currently exploring our options to move the process forward.”
But even if the two sides were able to decide quickly on a replacement for Mr. Donoghue, having already been able to consider candidates before agreeing to his appointment in September 2018, it figured to take a month or more after the selection before a block of hearing dates could be scheduled that worked for city and union officials as well as the panel chair. Until Mr. Donoghue was forced to bow out, the two sides had planned to hold 10 hearings in less than three weeks, concluding Feb. 14, unless further dates turned out to be needed.
One issue that delayed the process for close to a year has been resolved: the union’s objection to former Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn as the city’s representative on the panel was dismissed by a state Appellate court, which rejected the claim that he had a conflict of interest based on his having represented the PBA during a 2002 arbitration proceeding during Mr. Lynch’s first term.
The PBA nearly two years ago took the unusual step of announcing its representative on the arbitration panel even before the state Public Employment Relations Board ruled that an impasse had been reached in the negotiations. He is Kenneth Feinberg, a veteran compensation expert best known for his work as head of the World Trade Center Victim Compensation Fund.
Mr. Lynch has taken the union into arbitration three more times in the last 15 years. The union the first two times, in 2005 and 2008, was able to gain awards exceeding the existing city bargaining pattern by accepting reductions in compensation for future hires to limit the city’s costs. But in 2015, Mr. Linn as Labor Commissioner was able to convince arbitration chairman Howard Edelman to limit his award to two 1-percent raises that matched what other uniformed unions had accepted in the first two years of seven-year contracts.
Three years ago, for just the second time in his first six contract rounds, Mr. Lynch reached a negotiated settlement that pivoted on incumbent members of the union getting a raise of 2.25 percent above the 9 percent in raises negotiated by the other uniformed unions for a comparable five-year period. That raise, tied to the city’s neighborhood-policing program, had its cost offset by a reduction in the starting salary and pay scale for future Police Officers.
Last month, a coalition of eight uniformed unions negotiated a basic wage increase of 7.95 percent over three years. The two unions in that coalition representing cops, in the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain and above, have since been able to obtain added increases matching the extra 2.25-percent PBA raise. Each did so in the form of differentials that are pensionable but not part of base salary—without having to alter their salary scales for future promotes into their ranks—by agreeing to delays in when the raises would take effect and lengthening the durations of their original contracts by at least three months.
Both those agreements, reached in the unit-bargaining process in which the parties can deal with issues unique to the unions involved, are subject to membership ratification; the one for the Captains Endowment Association has ballots out that are due back before the end of the month.
Shorter Pact Possible
While contracts for both those police unions would not expire until sometime in 2022, assuming both gained membership approval, the PBA award, under PERB’s rules, could not run for more than two years unless both sides agreed to an extension. Since the last contract expired Aug. 1, 2017, the timetable delay caused by Mr. Donoghue’s being sidelined increased the possibility that the award would not be reached until late this year, when it would already be out of date.
Although the two sides had reportedly prepared extensive cases they expected to begin arguing before January ended, the possibility exists that they could wind up returning to the bargaining table. Three years ago, Mr. Lynch on Jan. 27, 2017, after an unsuccessful mediation session, declared his intention to pursue arbitration and sent out a letter to his rank and file later that day announcing that decision, only to subsequently agree to terms that were announced four days later. The key to breaking the logjam was his willingness to reduce compensation for future cops to even out the cost of the extra 2.25-percent raise to the city in comparison with the previous uniformed-union deals.
Two police unions, the Detectives’ Endowment Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association, were not part of the coalition that reached terms last month, apparently preferring to await the outcome of the PBA arbitration.
SBA President Edward Mullins did not return a call about whether he might alter his bargaining strategy due to the combination of the delay in the arbitration process and the obtaining by other police superior-officer unions—without reducing their pay scales—of the extra 2.25-percent in compensation.
DEA Head’s Objections
But the new head of the DEA, Paul DiGiacomo, said in a Jan. 22 phone interview, “It all depends on the city.”
Notwithstanding the CEA and LBA agreements, he explained, “It’s gonna be very challenging to the rank of Detective” to obtain that added benefit without having to make concessions that he believed shouldn’t be required.
Although those two unions were able to kept their pay scale intact, he noted that their unit deals did not provide the differentials at the outset of the tentative contracts and would be delayed for members of those unions who had not reached five years in their rank. In both cases, he pointed out, the contracts had been extended beyond the original 36-month duration to even out the city’s costs. Those in the rank of Captain and above, he noted, would have to give up one of their 27 annual vacation days as of Jan. 1, 2022.
What he found objectionable, Mr. DiGiacomo said, was “the constant horse-trading, to constantly give up benefits, to buy your own raise.”
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