The Wall Street Journal – December 08, 2014
by Michael Howard Saul
Mayor Bill de Blasio has struck deals with most of New York City’s union employees this year but now faces a daunting challenge: an escalating fight with police unions that say officers are being underpaid by the city and undermined by the mayor.
The administration and the city’s main police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, are at an impasse in their talks and are slated to begin binding arbitration in the coming weeks.
Patrick Lynch, the PBA president, has led a fierce ad campaign highlighting a labor dispute that has dragged on, while also accusing Mr. de Blasio last week of throwing officers “under the bus” in recent remarks.
“New York City police officers, who patrol the most complicated and densely populated city in America, are still among the lowest-paid, big city police officers in the country,” Mr. Lynch said.
Under the last NYPD contract, which expired in 2010, rookie officers’ starting salary was $41,975. After 51/2 half years, officers’ base pay was $76,488.
The fight represents a barrier to Mr. de Blasio’s drive to resolve all the labor contracts his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg , left behind. Not one of the city’s 144 collective-bargaining units had a labor contract when Mr. de Blasio took office on Jan. 1.
For Mr. de Blasio, who has been accused repeatedly by some union leaders of undermining the police, the fight over pay has become another wedge in a growing rift. The police unions have also been critical of Mr. de Blasio’s embrace of a federal monitor for the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics and his tone in talking about anger over a grand jury’s decision not to indict an officer in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner.
“We support our city. When will our city support us?” reads one recent ad from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association that described police officers as “overworked, understaffed, underpaid and unappreciated.”
This spring, Mr. de Blasio reached a deal with the teachers union that he said sets the pattern for the rest of the municipal labor force. The teachers deal included a pair of 4% raises that most other municipal unions received in 2009 and 2010, plus an additional 10% spread out over the remaining seven years of the agreement. Including in the deal are 18 months of no raises.
On Saturday, the administration announced it reached a tentative contract agreement with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, a 6,000-plus member union of principals and school administrators. This latest deal follows the terms set by the teachers union.
The uniform unions have argued that they deserve a better deal, given the rigors and dangers inherent in their jobs, but Mr. de Blasio and his administration, to date, have refused to budge.
As of this month, Mr. de Blasio has reached deals with 49 collective-bargaining units, accounting for 67% of the city’s hundreds of thousands of workers. Contracts with the remaining 95 collective-bargaining units, including the police, firefighter and correction unions, have yet to be resolved.
Amy Spitalnick, a de Blasio administration spokeswoman, said the contracts “provide employees with the fair wages they deserve, protect NYC taxpayers, and secure unprecedented health savings.”
Other uniform union leaders, such as firefighters and correction officers, said they are equally dismayed as the police unions.
Stephen Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said the mayor’s offer of 18 months of zero raises is unacceptable. “We’re not going to take it,” he said.
“Unless the 18 months worth of zeroes comes off the table, we really don’t have anything to discuss,” Mr. Cassidy said. “It’s not good for anyone when you have a labor force that believes that they’re not being treated fairly or are unhappy that it’s taking so long to resolve a contract.”
Norman Seabrook, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said he was frustrated because the economic climate has changed for the better. Last month, the mayor announced higher-than-expected tax-revenue collections, as well as significant debt-service savings of more than $1.1 billion above June budget projections. “We do the dirty jobs that nobody else wants to do, and I think we should be compensated just a little bit more,” said Mr. Seabrook.
He criticized the administration for seeking long-term contracts, saying they benefit the city more than the workforce. The teachers-union contract was a nine-year deal. “Doing a contract for six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years out is ridiculous,” Mr. Seabrook said.
The state Public Employment Relations Board, which handles labor disputes between public employers and their workers, has set the stage for a three-person arbitration panel to hear arguments from the city and the PBA. The result could set a new pattern for uniform workers, some union leaders said.
Several union leaders praised the de Blasio administration for setting a better tone than Mr. Bloomberg. But they say they have remained frustrated in negotiations because Mr. de Blasio’s team continues to insist on the contract terms set by the teachers.
Mr. de Blasio said earlier this year that he respects the work the public-safety employees do but has urged them to accept the deal on the table.
“We think there’s a clear pattern here, and we expect this pattern to hold throughout the process,” he said.