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PBA Goes Radical In Assault on Arbitrator
The Chief-Leader/Michel Friang
ONE IS THE LOWLIEST NUMBER: Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch expresses his outrage at arbitrator Howard Edelman’s recommendation of two 1-percent raises for Police Officers under a pending award. While the union leader attacked Mr. Edelman as ‘the poster boy for the wealthy one-percenters who have made their fortune off of the backs of hard-working New Yorkers,’ the PBA had mutually agreed with the city on his selection as chairman of the three-man arbitration panel. The proposal is consistent with the first two years of a seven-year contract covering most uniformed workers, including all higher unionized ranks in the NYPD.
Posted: Monday, November 9, 2015 5:00 pm | Updated: 5:27 pm, Mon Nov 9, 2015.
By RICHARD STEIER |
When the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s rhetoric sounds like it’s coming from the old Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, it’s a pretty good sign that things haven’t gone the union’s way in its contract-arbitration battle.
There must have been a certain culture shock for readers of the New York Post to pick up the Nov. 4 edition of the tabloid and find a full-page ad that read, “With his fancy Upper East Side penthouse and Nantucket vacation spot, Howard Edelman is the poster boy for the wealthy ‘one-percenters’ who have made their fortune off of the backs of hard-working New Yorkers.” It was as if The Revolution had arrived, only cops were leading the charge rather than girding themselves to repel it.
At 7:00 the following morning, residents of York Ave. at East 63rd St. found themselves awakened by cries of “Whose blood? Our blood! Whose lives? Our lives!” They could be excused if they felt a bit disoriented: the usual suspects when it comes to delivering full-throated renditions of such slogans are not known for being early risers.
Logic Behind the Short Ration
The two-front class-struggle offensive against Mr. Edelman, whom the Post ad had dubbed “Mister 1%,” was not likely to prod him into a hasty re-evaluation of what he considered an appropriate award for the city’s 24,000 Police Officers, since the two single-point hikes were designed to match what other uniformed city workers got in the first two years of their seven-year contracts.
The light gravy those unions got in the form of 9-percent raises over the final five years of their deals was not available to the PBA in an arbitration context, since the rules of the state Public Employment Relations Board prohibit awards of more than two years unless both sides agree. And union President Pat Lynch wasn’t enthralled by those back-loaded increases anyway, or he could have reached terms with the de Blasio administration soon after the pattern was set last December by a coalition of uniformed unions and embraced two months later by the one other holdout within the NYPD, the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association.
Notwithstanding the overheated rhetoric he and his rank and file unleashed last week, however, Mr. Edelman wasn’t some penthouse-dwelling elitist foisted on the union by what presumably would have been the George Soros wing of the Ruling Class, rather than the division commanded by the Koch brothers. The tripartite nature of this arbitration meant that both the city and PBA representatives had to agree on the third member of the panel, who would serve as its chairman. In other words, there was a time when the union regarded Mr. Edelman as the National League playoff version of Daniel Murphy, rather than the World Series bumbler shattering its hopes.
And so the protest outside Mr. Edelman’s home last Thursday could be viewed as making the best of a difficult union meeting: why should members vent at Mr. Lynch when their anger could be turned against the veteran arbitrator?
Not Necessarily Skunked
It would be a mistake to conclude that the PBA’s chances of doing better than the uniformed-union pattern are sunk. The last time matters appeared this bleak for the union in arbitration was in August 2002, when the Daily News reported that a different panel was on the verge of saddling it with the same raises under new Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a uniformed coalition had negotiated with Rudy Giuliani more than a year earlier. Based on that bit of intelligence, I wrote a column calling the PBA’s belief that a switch to PERB’s jurisdiction from the city Board of Collective Bargaining had unlocked the door to pay parity with the neighboring suburbs as doomed as the hope of Sidney Greenstreet and company that untold riches awaited them from the Maltese Falcon. As an added flourish, I suggested that just as the movie’s characters swiftly devolved, upon discovering that the black bird was a fake, from euphoria to recriminations, Mr. Lynch might be staring at a one-term presidency.
Given that this June he was easily elected to his fifth four-year term, it’s foolish to underestimate his resourcefulness. But while he rescued his political future by ultimately winding up with the same two 5-percent raises under the 2002 award over 24 months that the uniformed coalition received over a 30-month period, word at the time was that he got the break through some political maneuvering that might not be as effective now.
‘Zeroes’ Made Him
Mr. Lynch had gained office in 1999 because of continuing unhappiness within the PBA ranks over a 1997 arbitration award that forced union members to accept a two-year wage freeze at the start of a five-year contract. Even though the final three years of the award provided 12 percent in raises, cops were enraged at a freeze they characterized as “zeroes for heroes.”
The arbitrators had merely been adhering to an existing city bargaining pattern, and since union members couldn’t vote them out of office, they directed their frustration toward the PBA’s leadership at the time. The union’s president, Lou Matarazzo, was required because of his age to retire before the next election, but his hand-picked successor, James “Doc” Savage, while highly regarded in city labor circles, took the electoral fall for that arbitration award. He was challenged by two other members of the PBA board, but they also were guilty by association in the eyes of many cops; Mr. Lynch, the one candidate for president who was not part of the board, benefitted from his outsider status.
The tale is told that to avoid Mr. Savage’s fate–which would have been particularly galling given that the old regime in 1998 had secured the legislation that moved the union away from the BCB for arbitration purposes and Mr. Lynch had stood to benefit if it really made a difference–the PBA prevailed upon Gov. George Pataki, who was running for a third term at the time, to reach out to the arbitration chairman, Dana Eischen. As this unconfirmed but plausible story goes, someone from the Pataki camp assured Mr. Eischen, whose base was upstate, that however much his giving the PBA a small break from the uniformed pattern might upset Mr. Bloomberg, it would have no impact on future arbitration business from the state.
Unlikely to Work Now
No such inducements could be offered from Governor Cuomo, who like Mr. Pataki did then has a solid working relationship with the PBA. Mr. Edelman, as the union made clear last week, is based in the city. And beyond any issues about whether a change of heart under coaxing is an honorable thing for a neutral to do, the harshness with which the PBA attacked him publicly virtually demands that he stand firm on what he believes the award should be or risk being perceived as a patsy susceptible to pressure.
Whether the scuttlebutt about outside pledges that rippled through the labor community at the time being what persuaded Mr. Eischen to revise his final recommendations was true or not, the special dispensation gave the PBA a six-month head start on most of its uniformed counterparts for its next contract. Based on an estimate offered at the time, this meant that the 5-percent raise the PBA received in the first year of a two-year arbitration award in 2005 cost the city an extra $100 million. The shorter 2002 deal carrying the same raises also represented a crack in the tradition of pattern bargaining that the PBA hoped would influence future arbitration battles to its advantage.
That was Mr. Lynch’s immediate way to counter complaints by other uniformed-union leaders that he had spent millions of dollars in arbitration costs without producing huge gains, summed up by one correction-union leader as, “Where’s the ‘Suffolk County’ money? Where’s the ‘Nassau County’ money?”
Also Benefitted UFA
The award also cost the city more in its dealings with the UFA, which had been part of the 13-union uniformed coalition which on July 26, 2001 had reached contract terms with the Giuliani administration. Most of those unions had their deals ratified by their members by early September, but the UFA’s multi-step process pushed its vote into October. In the wake of Sept. 11, the union ultimately decided to shelve the contract vote and see what happened with the PBA, and so in November 2002 it was able to get the 10-percent in raises plus fringe-benefit gains in the same 24-month framework, rather than over 30 months, as would have been the case if it had ratified the coalition deal.
The difficulty of pleasing the PBA’s rank and file on contract issues had become clear over the course of that arbitration, even as it worked out to the union’s advantage and Mr. Bloomberg’s chagrin. There had been a point, before the rumored outside intervention from the Governor’s Office, when Mr. Eischen was prepared to award close to 5 percent in raises above the coalition pattern but predicated it on cops working an additional 10 tours a year. They wouldn’t have actually worked any additional hours, since the length of the tours was to be cut by 20 minutes. But there was strong reaction by many members against having to make the additional appearances, which appealed to the city because they would have helped reduce overtime costs while giving the NYPD greater flexibility in scheduling to deal with special events and high-crime periods of the day.
‘Unborn’ the Usual Victims
The one area in which the union has been willing to make concessions to generate extra compensation has been in reducing pay and benefits for future hires, a practice known as “screwing the unborn.” The clearest example of that came under a 1988 contract negotiated under then-PBA President Phil Caruso that produced huge gains in longevity benefits and raises a bit more than usual above those for civilian employees by cutting starting salary and stretching out the progression on the pay scale so that officers would not reach maximum until they had worked for five years, rather than the three that had been the standard.
The 2005 arbitration award used the same kind of givebacks to offset the cost of two 5-percent raises for those already on the job. But a 2008 arbitration generated a fair amount of flak within the ranks because it required small concessions, including having to qualify on the department firing range on cops’ own time rather than being paid for the day, that affected incumbents.
There is reason to believe that city Labor Commissioner Bob Linn, who was Ed Koch’s chief negotiator on the 1988 PBA deal, later concluded that the money saved over the years by reducing starting pay for all future hires was not worth the instability it triggered when other uniformed unions found it difficult to replicate the terms, leading to many longtime presidents being voted out of office in one of their next two elections. It would almost certainly complicate the lives of other uniformed-union leaders in the future, making it a peculiar way for the city to repay them for agreeing to terms that enabled it to minimize the possibility of the PBA making a breakthrough in its arbitration.
Limited Chips to Play
And so it would seem like if Mr. Lynch wanted to go back to bargaining and try to top the uniformed pattern when it came to pay raises, his only chips would consist of givebacks that would cause pain to those already on the job.
From a political standpoint, it might be easier just to live with an award that hews fairly closely to what Mr. Edelman has put out there–leaving his members cursing the arbitrator rather than their union leader–and then teeing up another arbitration proceeding and hoping the dice come up better when it’s time to agree on a chairman.
But as Mr. Lynch demonstrated 13 years ago, it’s still a bit early to conclude that he’s stuck in the box the city created.
Unless, of course, you think the full-page ad and the protest at Mr. Edelman’s home were spurred by the fact that, unlike in 2002, the PBA leader didn’t have any better cards to play.
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