While Police Union Seeks To Break Pattern, ‘2507’ Cites Firefighter Gap
By RICHARD STEIER
Feb 21, 2020
Abitration dates have been rescheduled for the Police Benevolent Association, with the union’s case for a pattern-busting pay raise to begin April 27, while the union representing Emergency Medical Technicians who are hoping to make a big leap to uniformed-union parity began its contract talks March 18.
The PBA arbitration was sidetracked when the chairman of the three-person panel, John M. Donoghue, was forced to withdraw due to illness shortly before arguments were due to begin Jan. 27. The two sides quickly agreed on veteran arbiter and mediator Martin F. Scheinman—whose vast experience in public-employee-union labor disputes includes extensive work in cases involving the Nassau and Suffolk county police unions—as his replacement.
Award by September?
The three-month delay in the start of talks does not preclude the possibility of an award being issued before the summer ends. The number of hearings scheduled in the case has been reduced from 10 to eight, Labor Commissioner Renee Campion said in a Feb. 19 phone interview, with the PBA to present its case on consecutive days from April 27 to 29, the city to respond May 4, 5 and 6, and rebuttals from both sides set for May 12 and 13.
In the weeks between the postponement of hearings and the setting of new dates, the city’s hand may have been strengthened by the ratification of contract terms by both the Captains Endowment Association and the Lieutenants Benevolent Association that Ms. Campion has contended constitute a uniformed-union pattern. They made those deals, each running for at least 39 months and featuring 7.95 percent in raises plus another 2.25 percent in differentials, as part of an eight-union uniformed coalition that reached basic terms last December.
The other six unions, representing employees in the Fire, Correction and Sanitation departments, are in various stages of their unit bargaining on items unique to their memberships, with the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association having just sent a completed contract to its rank and file for ratification.
Lynch: Not Enough for Us
PBA President Patrick J. Lynch reacted to the CEA’s ratification early this month predictably, saying that while the 10-1 ratio in favor of the deal showed it met that union’s needs, it fell well short of what was required to close the considerable salary gap his members face in comparison to cops in neighboring jurisdictions, including those employed as State Troopers and Metropolitan Transportation Authority cops who are also deployed in the city.
The arbitration panel also includes PBA representative Kenneth Feinberg, a compensation expert best known for his work at the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, and the city’s designee, former Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn. In 2015, while still serving as Mayor de Blasio’s chief negotiator, Mr. Linn was able to convince then-PBA arbitration chairman Howard Edelman that he should be guided by a pattern set nearly a year earlier by the uniformed coalition that began with two 1-percent increases.
The PBA, which showed its anger with that award in two noisy demonstrations, one outside Mr. Edelman’s Upper East Side apartment building, the second one on the street outside Gracie Mansion, three years ago reached contract terms on a five-year deal that contained raises matching those that comprised the latter part of the original uniformed-coalition accord. It also secured an extra 2.25-percent raise by providing equivalent savings to the city through a reduction in the early steps on its pay scale for future hires.
Several unions in that coalition over the past couple of months were able to gain that 2.25-percent increase in the form of differentials rather than pay increases without having to disrupt the salary schedules for future members.
EMS: Pay Us Like ‘Fire’
For the EMS unions, the issue is not matching compensation paid to their counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions. In fact, after Mayor de Blasio created a furor a year ago by defending a gap of roughly $35,000 between what city Emergency Medical Technicians receive at maximum salary and what is paid to Firefighters with similar experience by saying their “work is different,” Mr. Linn pointed out that the EMTs were paid as well as, or slightly better than, those employed by private hospitals within the five boroughs.
The case being pressed by EMS Local 2507 of District Council 37, which represents EMTs, and Local 3621, which represents those in the officer ranks for the service, is that the pay gap has led to mass departures of their members to Firefighter jobs whenever a promotion list for the latter title is established. That claim was fortified in late January when EMS Chief Lillian Bonsignore told a City Council hearing that she loses 1,200 EMTs each time a promotion list—which gives people in the title preference in hiring over members of the public who take the open-competitive test—begins to be used to fill Firefighter vacancies.
During that hearing, the president of the EMS Division of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association testified that salaries for EMTs in that city were just two percent below those for cops, who in New York City have a longstanding parity relationship with Firefighters at maximum salary.
Ms. Campion said the initial bargaining session had lasted a couple of hours and that the union made a wage demand, which she declined to disclose.
‘Recognize Work We Do’
Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay opted not to give details of the union’s proposal, saying in a statement, “We have only just begun contract negotiations and are optimistic about being able to work with the administration toward a positive outcome that recognizes the critical medical and life-saving services provided by our membership for the citizens of this city.”
Two additional bargaining sessions have been scheduled—one for March 12, the other for March 24—Ms. Campion said.