Fourteen months after District Council 37 reached contract terms that established a framework for negotiations for the rest of the municipal workforce, no uniformed unions have made new deals, with a pivotal factor being that the largest among them, the Police Benevolent Association, is stuck in the midst of a court proceeding that is holding up its contract arbitration.
And although it’s unlikely that union, whose old contract expired Aug. 1, 2017, will have a successor pact in place before next spring, the leaders of unions representing Detectives and those in the rank of Captain and higher said in phone interviews that they may wait to see what transpires in that arbitration before looking to negotiate their own deals.
Two Nagging Items
That approach is influenced by two factors: an extension of at least seven months to the deals the de Blasio administration made with both DC 37 and the United Federation of Teachers last fall that carried no additional pay hike beyond the 7.25 percent DC 37 members are receiving over the first 37 months of that union’s agreement, and unresolved business created by an extra 2.25-percent raise for incumbent Police Officers under the PBA pact reached Jan. 31, 2017.
Then-Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn noted at the time that deal was reached that this raise, which brought the value of two PBA pacts for those cops covering a seven-year period above what other uniformed unions agreed to under single seven-year deals negotiated starting in December 2014, was fully offset by concessions the union agreed to affecting its future members, primarily through a reduced salary scale.
But even as some uniformed-union leaders conceded his math was correct, they said it wouldn’t add up for their rank and files, and accused Mr. Linn of having broken a pledge to defend the pattern he had negotiated with them while avoiding any deal with the PBA that would pivot based on an attrition rate among Police Officers that is higher—in some cases significantly—than exists for virtually all the other uniformed workers. Because of that disparity, Mr. Linn, dating back to his tenure as Mayor Ed Koch’s chief negotiator in the 1980s, had taken the position that unions seeking the same benefit gains but with lower turnover rates would have to make additional concessions to equalize the costs to the city.
Several uniformed unions have sued in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on the grounds that Mr. Linn negotiated in bad faith given the assurances he provided five years ago regarding the deal they reached—raises totaling 11 percent over seven years—that he would not agree to additional raises for PBA members either at the bargaining table or through arbitration.
‘Definitely a Priority’
“Definitely the 2 ¼ percent is a priority,” Detectives’ Endowment Association President Michael J. Palladino said Aug. 13. “We defeated the motion to dismiss by the city [regarding the unions’ lawsuit], but they notified the Appellate Division that they intend to appeal.”
At the same time, the PBA has sued seeking to block Mr. Linn, who retired from city government Feb. 15, from continuing in his role as the administration’s representative on the three-person arbitration panel, claiming it would represent a conflict of interest. The union previously sought to disqualify him during a 2015 contract arbitration but was rebuffed by the state Public Employment Relations Board.
The legal action has left Mr. Palladino with his eye on two court proceedings, gaining equity in connection with the last PBA contract, and anticipating that the one to be decided in arbitration may be his best chance of avoiding the seven-month tack-on accepted by unions representing civilian workers as part of their deals.
“Unless the city changes from wanting seven months of zero under the contract, I’ve told my members in seminars around the city that I’m gonna wait to see what happens with the PBA in arbitration,” Mr. Palladino said. “I don’t think an arbitrator is gonna shove seven months of zero into an award” that, under PERB’s rules, could not run more than two years unless both sides agree.
‘Sold Out the Unborn’
Roy Richter, president of the Captains’ Endowment Association, finds himself in a similar situation. “We’re all waiting,” he said, mentioning the court case alleging a breach of faith by the city in agreeing to the extra raise for incumbent PBA members, which he said was “paid for by selling out the unborn.”
One anomaly of getting more money for incumbent officers by agreeing to pay reductions affecting those not yet on the job has never politically cost the two PBA leaders who made such deals: Phil Caruso in 1988 and Mr. Lynch, who did it in the course of arbitration processes in both 2005 and 2008 and at the bargaining table 31 months ago but has won re-election four times starting in 2007, three of them without opposition.
Leaders of other uniformed unions, however, have frequently lost re-election runs after being forced to make extra givebacks to match the PBA’s gains. Beyond the political peril such deals have created, several of them have lamented that their unions were punished for representing more-stable workforces than the officers under the PBA’s banner.
“It’s something we deal with in any round of bargaining for the last 20 years,” Mr. Richter said. “Historically, attrition bargaining has not worked in the interest of any supervisory union. The agreement we reached [in December 2014] did not contemplate attrition bargaining. That’s something we have to deal with now.”
He has yet to have substantive conversations with Mr. Linn’s successor, Renee Campion, but added he had been impressed in his dealings with her as Mr. Linn’s top deputy.
‘Devastating’ to Superiors
“It is a problem,” said Uniformed Fire Officers Association President James Lemonda. “Former Commissioner Linn was the architect of attrition bargaining; it’s so devastating to our promotional unions.”
Unlike Mr. Palladino, he said he was not committed to awaiting the outcome of the PBA arbitration before beginning serious negotiations with Ms. Campion. “I don’t necessarily believe I have to wait for another entry-level union,” Mr. Lemonda said, which would include the Uniformed Firefighters Association, whose president, Gerard Fitzgerald, declined comment on his bargaining plans.
Mr. Lemonda continued, “If I have an opportunity to take control of my own destiny, I will look to do that if it will benefit my members.”
Notwithstanding those remarks, Mr. Palladino predicted, “The PBA is gonna affect police and fire unions” because of the longtime parity relationships between the entry-level police union and NYPD’s superior-officer unions and the UFA. “But why the city hasn’t pulled the trigger with Sanitation, I don’t know. Harry’s dealing with frustration because he’s not getting his contract done.”
He was referring to Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association President Harry Nespoli, who characteristically did not sound like his patience was wearing thin when reached about an hour later.
Plans September Push
“We put in our demand, and they’re going to cost it out,” he said of Ms. Campion and her bargaining team. Talks were likely to grow more serious after Labor Day, Mr. Nespoli said, vowing to “make a push then” for a deal that he said would seek raises above the civilian-union pattern.
“You can look for something extra,” he remarked, “but you’re not gonna get it for nothing.”
Ms. Campion could not be reached for a response to the union officials’ positions.
One element of the uniformed-coalition deal from five years ago has particular appeal to Mr. Nespoli, he said: the right for his members to waive terminal leave that they are owed but can actually have a negative impact on their pension allowances because it requires staying on the payroll after they retire and are therefore drawing checks with no overtime pay.
He will not be distracted, the USA leader continued, by chasing any part of the 2.25-percent raise that brought the value to incumbent Police Officers above that for other uniformed workers under the 2017 PBA accord. The reason is simple, he said: he believed it would be a bad practice to reduce starting pay and/or a salary scale he said was already “probably the lowest of anybody” among uniformed unions.
Sanitation Workers have traditionally received a maximum salary equaling 90 percent of the top rate for Police Officers and Firefighters, although those assigned to collection trucks are able to make up a good part of the pay gap through a $42-a-day differential they receive under the nearly-four-decade old productivity program under which the union agreed to have crews reduced from three workers to two in return for giving those employees a piece of the city’s savings.
Current Start Rate, Max
Under a contract that expired this past January, union members are paid $37,630 during their first six months on the job, then go to $40,820 for the remainder of their first year before progressing gradually until they make a sizable jump to $77,318 after 5 ½ years of service, Mr. Nespoli said.
By comparison, starting pay for Police Officers is $42,500 under the expired 2017 deal, which is actually $319 less than the entry level that had been established in 2011—a consequence of the reduction in both hiring rate and the steps along the pay scale that funded the additional 2.25-percent raise in the 2017 contract. Top pay for cops with 5 ½ years on the job is $85,292.
Mr. Nespoli said because of his belief that it would be a mistake to saddle future members with a lower starting rate and cheaper steps on the pay scale before reaching maximum pay, “I will not look to extend the top salary to six years or lower [pay along] the steps.”
Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen declined comment on his bargaining plans.
Among the uncertainties is whether a group of uniformed unions will bargain jointly, as the great majority of those representing workers above the entry level, did last time. Mr. Palladino put it this way: “I’m not going to be part of a coalition if the coalition goes in prior to the PBA, unless the city indicates that the seven months of zero is not gonna be on the table.”
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