There was something disorienting about the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association protest Oct. 24 outside a Queens school where Mayor de Blasio was about to hold a town-hall meeting, and it wasn’t union President Pat Lynch calling the Mayor “a coward” and declaring, “He should’ve worn his chicken suit.”
As PBA insults go, these were mild compared to what the Mayor has endured—look no further than Mr. Lynch nearly four years ago claiming that prior remarks by the Mayor about police and their treatment of minorities meant he had “blood on the hands” for the assassination of two NYPD officers by a Baltimore man with long histories of criminal behavior and mental illness.
No, what really didn’t compute was that 14 months earlier, the PBA filed for arbitration just two weeks after its previous contract expired. This meant that Mr. Lynch, after seeking to have a third party decide the union’s contract, was calling out the Mayor for taking him at his word that he was through bargaining.
“New York City Police Officers are fed up with being taken for granted,” he told NY1’s Grace Rauh following the rally outside P.S. 42 in Far Rockaway.
Brickbats for ‘Back-Door Billy’
That had been apparent as union members chanted “No friend of labor,” “Pay us,” and “We’re not zeroes,” while awaiting Mr. de Blasio’s arrival. Mr. Lynch dubbed the Mayor “Back-Door Billy” even before Mr. de Blasio’s car arrived and the Mayor used a side entrance rather than pass in front of the protesters to enter the school’s main door.
Once he did, Mr. Lynch proclaimed, “The Mayor heard us. He ran like a chicken.”
His remark right after that regarding the chicken suit he believed Mr. de Blasio should have worn for the occasion appeared to be conflating the Mayor with Governor Cuomo, who went from reluctant debater to seething combatant a night earlier after the New York Post put him in feathers on its front page to mock his attempt to duck a face-off with Republican challenger Marc Molinaro.
If Mr. Lynch thought the same gambit might prod Mr. de Blasio into a bargaining mood, he wasn’t reckoning on the vast difference between the two situations.
The Governor’s prime reasons to avoid a one-on-one battle with Mr. Molinaro were to avoid giving a spotlight to a capable but largely unknown and underfunded challenger, and concerns he appeared to harbor about embarrassing himself by losing his temper. The Post filled the embarrassment void by portraying him as a clucking chicken who had been masquerading as the king of the Albany jungle. And while Mr. Cuomo’s demeanor on stage wasn’t exactly presidential in the way we used to think of that term, at no point had he seemed on the verge of leaping onto the table to slip past the two WCBS moderators to try to strangle his opponent.
In Mr. de Blasio’s case, there was little chance he could be shamed into stepping away from an arbitration proceeding that the PBA had initiated after minimal bargaining. In fact, when Mr. Lynch justified taking that step so soon after the union’s old pact had expired by accusing the city of failing to negotiate in good faith by making clearly inadequate offers, Labor Commissioner Bob Linn charged it was the PBA that was guilty on that count by virtue of its decision not to respond with counter-proposals.
While the union seemed eager to put its case in front of a three-person panel even before one was chosen by calling a press conference in early spring to announce that its representative would be Kenneth Feinberg, who is best known for his work as head of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, it has taken the opposite tack since the Public Employment Relations Board declared a bargaining impasse and set the stage for arbitration in late summer. The two sides agreed to have veteran arbitrator John Donoghue serve as chairman of the panel, but when the city chose Mr. Linn to serve as its representative, the PBA objected.
It had done so for a previous arbitration as well in 2015 on the grounds that there was a conflict of interest, given that Mr. Linn served as the union’s outside counsel for an arbitration decided in 2002, the first of four that Mr. Lynch has seen through to a conclusion during his 19-plus years as president.
First Claim Didn’t Fly
That earlier challenge was dismissed as unfounded, first by PERB and then subsequently by Howard Edelman, the chairman for that panel. Mr. Edelman, with encouragement from Mr. Linn, three years ago rejected the PBA’s case and saddled it with two annual 1-percent raises, matching the hikes for the first two years of seven-year contracts agreed to with the de Blasio administration by both a coalition of uniformed unions and the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
This time around, the PBA filed its challenge in court. Its hopes of success figure to be slim, for reasons beyond the complex logic behind its argument: courts tend to be reluctant to overturn administrative precedents unless an arbitrator’s decision is shown to be arbitrary and capricious. And until a ruling is issued, the clock is stopped on the arbitration panel’s work, which figures to take at least a year before an award is issued.
One PBA official, asked why it was slowing a process that it had moved so quickly to initiate, said there was no reason to conclude the move would drag things out.
“The parties can go back to the [bargaining] table at any point,” he explained. “Lynch has always believed that it’s better to come to an agreement at the table. Arbitration is always a crapshoot.”
He noted that the PBA leader wound up reaching negotiated settlements after commencing arbitration proceedings with both Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the summer of 2008 and Mr. de Blasio on Jan. 31 last year.
In both those cases, however, it was clear once terms were reached why the PBA had returned to bargaining. In the first case, after an arbitration award in May 2008 did not appreciably improve on the terms the Bloomberg administration agreed to under a seven-year deal with the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Mr. Lynch opted to interrupt a second lengthy process three months later to accept two 4-percent raises that matched the increases for the corresponding period of the SBA pact.
Extra Pay for Incumbents
Last year’s deal became possible when the city gave the union a raise of 2.25 percent above the hikes provided over the seven-year uniformed-coalition settlement that was described as a component of the NYPD’s neighborhood-policing program. The value of the two deals was the same, because the extra hike was offset by givebacks concerning the salary schedule for officers who hadn’t yet been hired. That didn’t prevent incumbent cops from treating it as a victory, and officers in other ranks represented by the remaining four NYPD uniformed unions from reacting with anger.
Mr. Linn said in an Oct. 30 phone interview that he was surprised by Mr. Lynch’s remarks at the union rally six days earlier. “They have not made any requests to come back to the table,” he said. “If they are interested in re-initiating negotiations, we would be happy to sit down with them.”
At this point in the current round of municipal bargaining, no uniformed union has reached contract terms. But the city has a solidified bargaining pattern, under an initial deal with District Council 37 and then one with the United Federation of Teachers that was easily ratified Nov. 2, that Mr. Linn seems willing to ride into arbitration. They run for 44 and 43 months, respectively, and provide raises with annual values of slightly more than 2 percent.
After each deal was reached, the PBA swiftly issued statements contending that while the terms may have suited those unions’ needs, they fell way short of what it needed to close the pay gap with neighboring officers whose duties were, if anything, less demanding than those of NYPD cops.
This argument pre-dates Mr. Lynch’s tenure as PBA president. In fact it goes back four decades to the point at which pay for Nassau and Suffolk county cops began to eclipse that for city officers.
Island Quid Pro Quos
There were two factors in that gap, which steadily grew. One was practical: there was no long tradition of linking police-officer raises in Long Island to those won by unions representing civilian workers in those counties. The other was political: the support of the police unions for Republicans, from the County Executives to the majority in the respective legislatures, was reciprocated through arbitrations that were conducted with a wink and a nod. And in contrast to the aggressive coverage of city bargaining by not only the city tabloids but the New York Times, the suburban deals didn’t arouse criticism from the one major newspaper covering those counties, Newsday, which seemed to operate under the impression that it was being a good corporate citizen by not questioning the generous awards—at least until both counties ran into fiscal problems over the past two decades.
And so PBA vows to gain parity for its members with their Nassau and Suffolk counterparts always had a pie-in-the-sky quality to them. The two city negotiators who have done nearly all of the bargaining for five different Mayors over the past 35 years, Mr. Linn and the late Jim Hanley, more often than not were able to blunt PBA demands by convincing arbitrators that the city could not provide parity without shredding its fiscal stability, and that once fringe-benefit costs were factored in, the differences in overall compensation were relatively small.
For this arbitration, Mr. Lynch—who previously also argued that city salaries were well behind those for officers in less-affluent nearby cities such as Yonkers and Newark—has focused attention on the salary differences between his members and the State Troopers who under Mr. Cuomo’s orders have become an increasing presence on city streets and highways as his feud with Mr. de Blasio has produced turf wars on several fronts.
Those gaps were obvious even after the deal in early 2017 that brought top pay for Police Officers to $85,292 after 5 1/2 years on the job. State Troopers, by contrast, max out at $90,827, and reach that level after five years of service.
Bigger Gap Early On
The difference is even more glaring further down on the pay scale. To cover the cost of the added 2.25-percent raise, the PBA was forced to provide savings at the expense of not-yet-hired officers by slowing their progression to maximum salary. Their starting pay was set at $42,500, which rose to $45,000 after 18 months on the job and $51,000 after 4 ½ years of service, before making a 67-percent jump a year after that to maximum pay.
By contrast, State Troopers begin at $53,993 while undergoing training, and upon graduation from the police academy rise to $71,712. Once they have completed a year of service, their pay goes to $76,381. Those assigned to New York City also receive a location differential of several thousand dollars—which is provided also to those working in seven downstate counties, sometimes in lesser amounts—to compensate for the higher cost of living compared to upstate.
There are disadvantages Troopers face in some aspects of their compensation compared to NYPD officers: they only get 13 days of paid sick leave a year while city cops have unlimited leave, and they do not receive the $12,000-a-year Variable Supplements Fund benefit that is unique to city cops who retire after at least 20 years’ service, which serves as a kind of added pension. But the edges city officers enjoy in those areas come into play only if they sustain injuries or illnesses that make them unable to work for extended periods, or upon leaving the job. For officers who manage to avoid serious mishaps and aren’t approaching retirement, the value of such benefits doesn’t offset the salary gaps.
The UFT in each of its contract deals with Mr. de Blasio has been willing to accept relatively modest pay increases. Part of the reason is that a 4 ½-year delay between contracts prompted by Mr. Bloomberg having refused to give the union the two 4-percent hikes that PBA and other unions had negotiated prior to the national recession taking hold in late 2008 had left UFT members with huge amounts of back pay owed to them that sweetened the first agreement. UFT President Mike Mulgrew has been willing to meet the city’s financial terms in return for a closer working relationship than with the previous two Mayors that has had its greatest impact in quality-of-life issues on the job.
Among those are changes in the disciplinary and evaluation processes that benefit not only Teachers but the large contingent of paraprofessionals represented by the union. One of the most-notable is an agreement under which, if a subpar rating for a Teacher is found by an arbitrator to be a result of her having angered her superiors by exposing negligence or lobbying for required services to be provided, that conclusion will nullify the negative rating without having to be upheld by the Schools Chancellor.
The evaluation process has been modified under the just-ratified UFT contract to be more Teacher-friendly at both ends of the competency scale. Teachers with high ratings will be observed less frequently than in the past, while those who are struggling will have more-frequent observations to ensure they get enough help early in the school year to produce improvements by its end. And Mr. Mulgrew appears confident that Mr. de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will not be pressured by the tabloids into bouncing a pre-determined number of instructors to prove that the process is sufficiently rigorous.
There’s no question many police officers would prefer to have disciplinary cases resolved through arbitration rather than through the NYPD Trial Room. Officers and occasionally the police unions have described the internal hearing process as “a kangaroo court” in which penalties are influenced by matters including political considerations and connections to those with clout in the upper ranks of the department. Not so incidentally, State Troopers have the right to arbitration of their disciplinary charges.
But those familiar with the NYPD say it is unlikely that the Mayor would strip the Police Commissioner of the power to make final determinations on discipline, as he has in ending the Chancellor’s review of any cases in which a Teacher claims to be the victim of retaliation for exposing questionable practices. Police Commissioners have been known to underfund the Civilian Complaint Review Board and bristled at the creation of an independent Inspector General’s office because each body represents a potential incursion upon their prerogatives. It is not uncommon for them to modify recommendations for discipline made by the CCRB in the cases it prosecutes. And they would be likely to cite the paramilitary nature of the NYPD to waylay any attempt to adopt arbitration that would completely remove cases from their ultimate control.
‘A Law Unto Itself’
As one city government veteran put it, “The Police Department is a law unto itself. The likelihood of the PBA getting a change [in that area] is slim,” though he questioned the rationale for denying city cops the right to arbitration when it is offered to State Troopers.
The union has the option of seeking such a change through City Council legislation, he added, but it has had a difficult relationship with the current Council leadership because of clashes on a number of changes it has implemented that the PBA believes make its members’ jobs harder.
In terms of finding a way to put some extra money in its members’ pockets without disrupting the established bargaining pattern, the UFT deal offers some possibilities. The pact offers bonuses of between $5,000 and $8,000—known as “hard-to-staff differentials”—to Teachers and Guidance Counselors who agree to work in schools and neighborhoods which historically have been problem spots. That is part of an effort to transform what Mr. Carranza on the day the deal was announced called “historically underserved schools.” It will focus on 180 schools, many of them in The Bronx, using additional resources, expanded roles for Lead Teachers in the professional development of other instructors, and credits toward a master’s degree being tailored more to Teachers’ classroom experiences than to academic courses.
Whether all the elements of what is known as “The Bronx Plan” could be adapted to a PBA contract is unclear, from paying cops more to work in precincts with persistently high crime rates to getting differentials for mentoring their colleagues. But the existence of the pool for the extra pay suggests there may be some equivalent money to compensate police officers beyond the basic raises of 2, 2.5 and 3 percent spread over the course of the UFT deal, the latter two of which won’t take effect until May 14, 2020 and May 14, 2021.
The potential pitfall of a bonus program would be Mr. Lynch’s past reluctance to negotiate extra money for just one segment of his membership; it is why the 2.25-percent added raise granted early last year was extended throughout the bargaining unit even though some officers are removed from the kind of patrol jobs that are directly involved in the neighborhood-policing initiative.
As to why the PBA leader, not long after PERB belatedly agreed to send the case to arbitration, has decided to turn up the heat on Mr. de Blasio to go back to bargaining, that move may be rooted in twin realities.
One involves the UFT having reinforced the pattern established by DC 37. The PBA’s most-notable breakthrough in arbitration concerning incumbent officers came in 2005, at a time when only DC 37 had reached contract terms and the panel chairman, Eric Schmertz, had openly scoffed at the city’s claim that it constituted a genuine pattern. Mr. Lynch may figure the UFT ratification further hindered his chances of besting the pattern and so it’s better to see if he can tailor a deal that would work to his members’ advantage through some creative negotiation.
The other element that has begun to loom over the PBA leader is next June’s election, in which he would be seeking a fifth four-year term. Delays in getting started on the arbitration have virtually guaranteed that an award would not be made by the time he goes before his rank and file, and how they would react if an acceptable contract was not already in place at that point is as much an uncertainty as what might happen in the arbitration.
In 2015, he fought off his first opposition since gaining a second term in 2003, winning more comfortably than was expected with 70 percent of the vote in a three-man race.
Future Riding on Pact?
If he can negotiate a decent contract that offers some gains beyond the basic raises that he previously called inadequate for his members’ needs, it would enhance his prospects of extending his tenure as the longest-serving president in the union’s history.
And if Mr. Lynch isn’t able to secure such a deal by that time, being engaged in a full-throated shouting match with the Mayor—even if he’s providing a majority of the vocals—offers a lot likelier path to re-election than asking members to have faith that the arbitration ruling will be worth the wait.
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