We are again in contract negotiations with the City. I want to begin our first newsletter for this round by stressing the importance of collective bargaining to the union, bring you up to date on what we have been doing since our arbitration award of one year ago, advise what we can expect in this round, and describe for you what has happened thus far in bargaining.
Contract negotiation is one of the most important functions a union performs for its membership. For that reason, the process of securing a contract is never ending and it is critical that the time and financial resources expended reflect the importance of this task to the membership. As I have said on previous occasions, I will spare no expense and will expend all of my and the Board’s efforts to ensure that our members are treated fairly and favorably at the bargaining table.
As a result of the expenditure of time and resources in the last round, our bargaining unit received compensation and benefits that the City itself valued at $115 million in excess of compensation and benefits that settling members of the uniformed coalition received. Our goal is to continue to build on that result in this round of bargaining — a round that will be particularly difficult because of the City’s financial condition. It has taken the NYPD well over a decade to get itself into a position where it is significantly behind other police groups in this area; it will only be through continued successes in each round of bargaining that the gap can be closed.
Since the issuance of the arbitration award in September 2002, the PBA has undertaken many steps to ensure that we are prepared for this round of bargaining. First, we fully critiqued our last round of bargaining and arbitration proceeding and identified how we can do it better, what successful aspects should be carried over to this round, and whether additional personnel and resources are needed for this round. We also have identified the strengths and weaknesses associated with the PERB arbitration forum. As a result of that process, we have rethought our strategies and made some changes with our team, but have kept in place some of the professionals that we have concluded were effective for us in the past.
Second, we continue our data gathering to demonstrate both at the table, and in arbitration in the event it proceeds that way, that we remain substantially underpaid versus any other police department, local or national. The data continues to show what we all know, that our salary does not measure up to police salaries in other jurisdictions, no matter how you look at it.
Third, we have set up meetings with the other police and fire groups to exchange information and discuss issues relating to this round of bargaining. One item all of the groups agreed upon is the retention of an expert to monitor the health benefits discussions between the MLC and the City. Our goal is to ensure that any agreement reached by the MLC with the City regarding health benefits fairly addresses our needs and does not unfairly disadvantage us. Should the agreement reached by the MLC be unfair if applied to us, we will consider all of our options, including bargaining our own health benefits agreement, a legal right that PERB confirmed in our last round of bargaining belonged to the individual unions, rather than MLC.
You may have read in the newspapers of a dispute between the Police & Fire Groups and the MLC concerning what has been referred to as the PICA program. PICA was a program that was agreed to by other unions, but not the PBA, in the last round. (The PBA was ultimately held bound to some components of the agreement by the PERB arbitrator). It involves the depletion of Stabilization Fund assets to fund certain prescription drugs (Psychotropic, Injectible, Chemotherapy & Asthma). The Stabilization Fund was a fund amounting to in excess of $500 million that was used to fund our GHI and certain other health benefits. If you recall, we objected to the proposal because we predicted that it would lead to a depletion of Stabilization monies and ultimately play into the City’s strategy of imposing premiums on our health benefits. And, as we predicted, that is what has occurred. In just two years, the deal from the last round resulted in the depletion of over $500 million in funds. Now, the City is looking to have City employees assume part of the burden of paying for health benefits, a financial imposition on City employees that will only get worse in each successive round.
As a first step, on May 2, 2003, the Police & Fire unions asked for the data on the PICA program to see how, and to what extent vis-a-vis other groups, our members have benefited. We have been effectively stonewalled by the City in getting the data. As a result, we have begun the process of bringing a legal proceeding to get the data. I have also made the PBA’s position clear: it will not be part of any agreement that requires our active and retired members to pay premiums on health benefits. This amounts to a salary and benefit reduction and we will do everything to oppose such a scheme. Accordingly, when the City sat down to talk about health benefit premiums, the Police & Fire unions made clear in writing that it would not be part of any group discussing that type of change. This led to a joint appearance by certain MLC and City leaders denouncing the police and fire unions. The nature of the reaction from the City only confirms the correctness of our position. We will not be bullied by the City, the MLC, or anyone else to do what is not in our member’s best interests.
Finally, as in the last round of bargaining, we do not believe at this point that it is in this union’s best interest to bargain for wages and welfare benefits as a coalition. For that reason, unless circumstances change, we will again bargain as a separate unit.
One of the factors the union must deal with in any negotiation or arbitration with the City is the City’s ability to pay for either a negotiated settlement or an arbitration award. It is one of the factors that the PERB statute requires the arbitrator to consider. The City’s ability to pay can be influenced by a number of factors, including the health of the national and local economy, tax revenues, level of expenditures and a myriad of other issues. We discuss below in general some of the issues relevant to ability to pay.
As we informed you in our last newsletter, according to City reports, the City’s budget picture is bleak. The Comptroller’s July budget report projected out year budget gaps of over $2 billion. 0% originally had been budgeted for the labor reserve in this round of bargaining, meaning no raises for City employees had been budgeted. Since that time, much has occurred on the budget front, mainly through a combination of City and State actions, a recent economic uptick and some personnel actions. These development have marginally brightened the financial picture. First, the increased City real estate taxes have kicked in, resulting in a slightly improved revenue picture. Second, agency cuts, which we have been acutely aware of as a result of our diminished headcount, have reduced projected budget deficits. Third, several recent news accounts have indicated that tax revenues are beginning to pick up and that projections on Wall Street earnings have improved. Already, however, politicians are discussing how to make sure it is not available to fund raises.
Underscoring the seriousness of the budget situation, the Comptroller’s July report said the following with respect to wages: “The City is seeking the cooperation of the labor unions to fund any wage increases with productivity initiatives. However, the City allocated $200 million to the FY 2003 labor reserve to offset a cash shortfall between productivity savings and any future negotiated wage increases. This funding will allow the City to support wage increases with a cash shortfall approximately equal to the cost of a one-percent wage increase. Alternatively, it could be used to fund a bonus in the first year of a new contract as was negotiated in the recent NYC Transit contract.”
We have met and had discussions with our Trustees, delegates, contract committee and many members and have fashioned demands that we believe best further the goals of the organization and its membership.
First, and most importantly, is wages. We hope to pick up where we left off in the last round by continuing to push to close the gap between our pay and that of surrounding communities. Our research reveals that while some progress has been made in compensation, a substantial gap remains. We will continue to push to close that gap. We have offered a host of monetary demands that would serve to compensate our members for aspects of, and requirements for, our job that are not replicated by the civilian work force. Our work is different from most other jobs and we should be compensated for it. Among other demands, for the first time, we are asking for a compensation differential based on our increased workload and safety risks, which have arisen as a consequence of the terrorist threats and incidents occurring within the City of New York. We are virtually unique in the risk we take on in our employment each day as a result of terrorist activities. In addition to the tragic loss of lives, many of our members have had their health damaged from activities relating to the WTC. We should be compensated for that work and those risks.
We also have asked for premium pay for the extra work we have taken on, particularly on patrol but also in other commands, as a result of having significantly less manpower available. As you know, the ranks of police officers have dwindled significantly since 1999. We have demanded that the savings realized from the diminished headcount be spread across our ranks.
We have also asked for Education and Experience pay, which is designed to compensate members for college education required for the job since the 1990’s and the critical experience possessed by our more senior officers, many of whom are fleeing the NYPD for greener pastures.
Next, we have fashioned a comprehensive group of demands addressing major quality of life issues affecting our membership, including:
A modern chart requiring fewer appearances.
Limiting member’s confinement while on sick leave to the hours of his or her regularly scheduled tour.
Establishment of a Labor-Management Committee to set safe mini-mum manning levels in each Precinct. If minimum manning cannot be met, the Department would be required to bring in another member on overtime.
Establishment of health and safety standards consistent with the private sector.
Mandatory replacement of vests upon the expiration of the Warranty period.
The allowance of mutual exchange of tours between officers.
A requirement that seniority be the primary factor in the selection of shifts, discretionary assignments, vacations picks, and in the awarding of overtime.
Arbitration before the American Arbitration Association of all disciplinary cases which may result in dismissal.
Elimination of cash overtime limits.
For its part, the City has put forward the same old tired proposals. While the City pays lip service in the preamble to its proposals to our “continued inestimable dedication to duty” and “selfless contributions on behalf of our great City,” the proposals speak otherwise. Besides being wholly lacking in creativity, and devoid of any sense of fairness and equity, the City proposals continue to reflect that the City refuses to acknowledge that the NYPD cannot recruit qualified candidates at the current pay levels and cannot retain those trained, experienced and professional officers who keep the City safe each and every day. Remarkably, but predictably, the City has taken the position that “[a]ny future [wage] increases shall be funded entirely through prospective productivity savings.” This means two things from the City’s point of view: (1) The City will not pay retroactive wage increases, meaning no retroactive checks in this round; and (2) any wage increase must be funded by givebacks. As I said across the table, the City Proposals are a complete insult and slap in the face to every police officer who has brought about the renaissance of this City.
In addition to demanding monetary givebacks, the City is seeking a host of changes that will make our lives more difficult and further diminish our compensation, including the ten additional appearances sought in the last round of bargaining — an issue that was ultimately voted down by the PERB arbitration panel after we demonstrated in the streets of Times Square. When the rest of the country is moving to 10 and 12 hour tours and many of our members are continuing to be pushed to the farthest extremes of the suburbs in order to be able to rear their families, how does this proposal make any sense? In our view, this proposal is designed to hurt further the working police officer, evidencing the City’s complete lack of good faith in this round of bargaining. As the City demands make clear, we have our work cut out for us in this round.
We have met with the City on two occasions with no progress to report, other than the exchange of respective demands and my expression of complete disgust at the City’s proposals. Unlike the last round of bargaining, where we knew a constitutionality challenge to the PERB statute was likely, this round will be different. If you recall, that litigation, in which the PBA ultimately prevailed, set back our ability to receive a final award by almost one full year. Should we be unable to reach agreement at the table in this round of bargaining, our ability to get to PERB, if that is deemed to be in our best interests, will not be obstructed by a time-consuming constitutionality litigation.
As I have said on many occasions, we will only achieve success through unity and the strength projected by our being united. We face one of the most difficult rounds of bargaining in the City’s history. We need to exert every effort as a union, but more importantly as we saw in the last round, as a united membership, to prevail in our battle for fair wages. I will again ask you to join us in getting our message out to the citizens, politicians and decision makers in a professional and persuasive manner.
Our message is simple: New York City Police Officers need to be paid a fair wage for the dangerous and difficult job they do each and every day. That work ensures that business and tourism flourish in this great City. Safety, like no other issue, is inextricably linked to the prosperity of this City. Since the last round, we have continued to do more with substantially less police officers. We are told that the crime reductions continue to be achieved, despite our depleted ranks. We have been successful like no other agency. Fairness and equity demand that our work be rewarded.
We will need to communicate this message in unison through our continued professionalism in the field and through union-sponsored -- and membership supported — public appeals at the appropriate times. IN UNITY — STRENGTH.
Patrick J. Lynch