Arbitrator’s Draft Contract Backs Police Union Into a Corner

Capital NY – November 04, 2015

by Gloria Pazmino and Laura Nahmias

The head of the city’s rank-and-file police officer union seems to have lost a bid to get substantial raises for the city’s 24,000 officers.

In a draft contract distributed Monday, an independent arbitrator proposed that Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch’s officers follow a bargaining pattern established by their uniformed counterparts that would grant them only 1 percent raises for two years.

That proposal leaves the union’s polarizing but popular leader with little room to negotiate for a better deal, unless he is willing to return to the bargaining table with the city to try to work out a contract — a move that has proven fruitless in the past.

“The police are stuck with a contract where they’re going to get poorer every year,” said John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Eugene O’Donnell, calling it “a terrible result for the PBA” if the draft contract is finalized.

The draft deal, written by arbitrator Howard Edelman, comes after weeks of bitter arbitration sessions between the city’s chief labor negotiator Bob Linn and the PBA’s chief counsel before Edelman, whom the New York State Public Employment Relations Board tapped after the union signaled last May that negotiations had reached an impasse.

Edelman’s draft contract, which has been circulated among the parties as well as union leadership, would give rank-and-file officers only 1 percent raises for two years and would require the union to return to the bargaining table after that time.

His proposal pales in comparison with contracts the union managed to hammer out during previous arbitration sessions.

But it is bolstered by the fact the city has already settled with 11 uniformed unions — including those representing police detectives, lieutenants and captains. They all agreed to contracts in the past year and a half that provide 11 percent raises, including some retroactive pay, over the course of seven years.

The fact that the city had already settled with those other law enforcement unions set a unique precedent in the most recent round of arbitration. By contrast, in previous years, other unions were continuing to work without contracts when the PBA went into arbitration.

Further souring this two-year contract proposal for the PBA is the fact that contracts resulting from PERB arbitration cover only two years at a time — meaning that as higher raises kick in for other unions under their own longer-term contracts, the PBA is forced to start its bargaining sessions over every two years.

Under Lynch’s leadership, the PBA’s argument in arbitration has centered on its interpretation of the Taylor Law, the labor statute that outlines parameters for city and state public employees. That law requires arbitrators to consider five criteria, including the wages for comparable jobs in the same geographical area, but it lets arbitrators decide how much weight to give each criteria.

Lynch has argued that his union’s members are paid less than police officers in nearby suburbs, the Port Authority and other major cities — an argument that has been key to his refusal to bargain with the city and has helped him win contract fights in the past.

In a statement sent to reporters on Monday, he insisted the draft contract “flouts” the Taylor Law by choosing to follow the pattern established by the other uniformed unions, rather than considering wages in other police department’s.

“The Taylor Law doesn’t talk about pattern. It talks about market rate of pay,” a PBA official authorized to speak only on background told POLITICO New York on Tuesday. “You can’t compare an officer job to a supervisor or a manager job. That’s what he’s doing by comparing officers to lieutenants and sergeants.”

The official said Lynch’s argument had proven successful in the past but admitted the draft decision doesn’t allow the union much room for negotiation.

“We had gone through the PERB process before with very good success,” the official said. “We went to PERB, and this decision came out, and we think this draft certainly is not supported by any of the evidence presented during the process.”

Back in 2008, an arbitration panel decided to give rank-and-file police officers 4 percent raises each year from 2006 through 2010, raises that were partially offset by cuts in vacation time for newer officers. The union has been working under that expired contract ever since.

In that 2008 decision, arbitrator Susan McKenzie gave greater weight to the PBA’s argument that New York Police Department officers’ salaries should be kept in line with other department’s officers, like those in the Nassau County Police Department.

But Edelman — who has previously worked out deals with other unions and donated to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign — isn’t weighing that factor as heavily as others, said budget analyst Maria Doulis from the Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog.

There is more to the Taylor Law than just considering regional pay patterns, she added. “It’s spin,” she said of the PBA’s position.

“Does the arbitrator need to consider the Taylor Law? Yes. But the arbitrator has several criteria he needs to consider. That’s just one of them. The city’s ability to pay, the public interest, comparable ability to pay,” Doulis said.

The arbitration’s final determinations are legally binding and leave the union with few options, unless it sues the city to appeal the arbitration ruling — something Lynch threatened in 2002 after arbitration yielded a deal that didn’t meet his expectations.

But in this case, litigation is unlikely, a union official told POLITICO New York, calling the prospect “too risky, because it would impact future labor negotiations.”

The union hasn’t had a contract in five years. If the two-year draft contract is approved, it would be retroactive to 2010 and would actually be more than three years expired by the day it is ratified. Lynch would need to begin negotiating another contract for his members immediately.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for de Blasio, declined to comment on the details of the draft but said a final decision is expected before the end of the month.

Speaking to reporters at an unrelated press conference in Brooklyn on Tuesday, de Blasio encouraged the PBA to follow the pattern established by other uniformed workers.

“What I’ve said all along is I believe that the pattern that we set for all of our uniformed services is fair, and obviously the vast majority of the uniformed unions and their members thought it was fair, because they voted for it,” he said.

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