Pat Lynch, the longtime president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, is betting he can secure a better contract than other city workers by not dealing directly with the de Blasio administration.
The gamble—that the P.B.A. can get a preferable deal in binding arbitration—has worked for Lynch in the past.
His campaign pitch for re-election this year boasts of securing “pattern-breaking pay increases” for his officers, saying over his 16 years leading the union, he had “increased the compensation of police officers in basic maximum wage by over 56% in ten years as a result of three hard fought PERB arbitrations.”
This year, the stakes are especially high for Lynch, who is facing an internal challenge from a 27-year-veteran and longtime trustee of the union who has accused the president of not delivering for the union’s 24,000 rank-and-file officers.
The path this year could also be especially difficult, as other police unions—long frustrated by Lynch’s arbitration gambit—have accepted a pattern of new deals that could limit the P.B.A.’s bargaining power.
Lynch’s case has historically centered on the argument that his members are paid less than police officers in nearby suburbs, the Port Authority and other major cities. The de Blasio administration is prepared to argue that Lynch should accept the same pattern of salary increased agreed to by all the other police unions.
In December, with the P.B.A.’s binding arbitration on the horizon, the de Blasio administration, led by labor relations commissioner Bob Linn, secured a deal with eight uniformed unions that included police detectives, lieutenants and captains. The agreement provides each union 11 percent raises, including some retroactive pay, over the course of seven years.
While the police union presidents are still sorting out when those first raises will kick in, all three deals have been ratified by their members. And in each case, they agreed to the settlements without what’s known as a “re-opener clause,” which would have allowed them to renegotiate their contracts if the P.B.A. received a better deal.
Last week, de Blasio stood with Ed Mullins, the leader of the sergeants union, to announce another new deal.
Mullins had stood beside Lynch in December, when Lynch said there was “blood on the hands” of officials at City Hall following the death of two officers in Brooklyn—an accusation that deepened a rift between the union and the administration. And Mullins had previously threatened to follow Lynch’s lead into binding arbitration.
As his contract was announced, Mullins made clear that ending the stalemate for his members trumped his feud with the mayor, and said it was “time now that we settle and people get paid and move forward.” The S.B.A. deal provides four years of 1-percent increases, followed by raises of 1.5, 2.5 and 3 percent in the final three years.
Mullins acknowledged that four years of only 1-percent raises is not ideal, but indicated it was the best he could do given the pattern that had been established.
“Unfortunately once a pattern seems to be getting set, it’s very difficult to get around it,” he said.
Lynch did not criticize Mullins’ deal, but he complained in December about the labor agreements other police unions signed off on, comparing them unfavorably to contracts for officers in other jurisdictions.
“Compared to our fellow police officers, we are the lowest paid,” Lynch said on Dec. 9, taking particular issue with the contract for stalling the first 1-percent retroactive raise for 11 months. (Some union leaders have since negotiated to have the first raises take effect earlier.)
Lynch has long had an uncomfortable relationship with the other police unions, who have accused him of undercutting their own deals.
During the 2000-2002 bargaining session, Lynch broke the pattern of raises accepted by other uniformed unions when he received two 5-percent increases over 24 months. Others had gotten the same raises over 30 months. In addition, Lynch received an extra, discretionary 1.5 percent.
For the next round of negotiations, 2002 through 2004, he won the same 5-percent raises, but upset other union leaders by agreeing to lower the starting salary for rank-and-file members to $25,100. The move to extract cuts from future members—known in labor negotiations as “selling the unborn”—infuriated the other union leaders, because City Hall required them to match the savings Lynch had offered.
That proved more difficult for the other police unions, whose incoming members are supervisors or other longtime members of the department.
Detectives Endowment Association president Michael Palladino described Lynch’s style to The Chief-Leader in 2006 as: “Let me screw you, and then I’ll blame you, and then I’ll ask you to pay for it.”
Palladino was quoted in the New York Post saying, “In my opinion, any union leader who creates and signs off on a $25,000 rookie police officer has no credibility.”
Lynch, in turn criticized, the other leaders for agreeing to four-year deals, fearing they would undermine him in future arbitration, and he penned a 15-page letter on the P.B.A. website explaining “why the actions of certain other police unions threaten to undermine gains we have made in bargaining.”
In binding arbitration for the 2004-2006 contract, Lynch won raises of 4.5 percent the first year and 5 percent the second. Lynch also agreed to increase the starting salary but gave up other benefits.
Other uniformed unions, including the supervisory police unions, had already accepted raises of 3 and 3.15 percent for those years—the final two years of the contracts they had already settled—and were forced to use their re-opener clauses to renegotiate their deals and had to find equivalent savings.
Having set a steep precdent in the three rounds of binding arbitration, Lynch settled a deal with the Bloomberg administration in 2008 that gave his members 4-percent raises each year from 2006 through 2010. The union has been working under that expired contract ever since.
But Lynch’s maneuvering had also set a precedent among the other leaders.
Last year, his wary counterparts decided to form a coalition with fire, sanitation and corrections supervisors to strengthen their hand at the bargaining table.
“The attrition-based bargaining engaged in by the P.B.A. has eroded many unit-specific benefits enjoyed by supervisory unions as we struggle to match ‘savings’ generated by the P.B.A. as they reduce pay and benefits of future hires to fund raises for current police officers,” Captains Endowment Association president Roy Richter wrote on his union’s website in November, in announcing the coalition.
Richter, Palladino and Louis Turco of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association all declined to comment for this article.
The coalition contracts could undercut Lynch’s argument that New York City officers are underpaid relative to officers in other departments and jurisdictions.
“The arbitrators have a handful of criteria that they use to make their judgment,” said Maria Doulis of the Citizens Budget Commission. “The two that they rely the most heavily on are a comparison of that segment of the workforce to other comparable positions. … The other criteria that they weigh heavily is the pattern. When you have a uniformed pattern that’s so deeply entrenched it becomes a heavier factor. It certainly strengthens the city’s case about sticking to the pattern.”
A labor negotiator not involved in the negotiations said the pattern limits Lynch’s options.
“What argument could he possibly make?” asked the negotiator. “Terrorism? … Nobody thinks this is helpful to the P.B.A. Four out of five [police unions] have already settled, plus you’ve got 75 percent of the workforce [under contract.]”
The police union contracts were based loosely on the civilian pattern set by the United Federation of Teachers last year, which was crafted by Howard Edelman, who serves as the arbitrator for the P.B.A.’s negotiations this year.
Lynch has yet to have a single binding arbitration session, but he lost an early battle when a panel ruled against his request to have Linn replaced in arbitration. The P.B.A. had argued the city’s labor commissioner should not serve as de Blasio’s representative in the three-person sessions because he had worked as a consultant for the P.B.A. in previous labor disputes.
Lynch could opt to leave binding arbitration and resume negotiations with the de Blasio administration at any point, though he has given no public indication he’s considering that. He declined to comment for this article.
In announcing the deal with the sergeants’ union last week, De Blasio made clear he was open to negotiations.
“My point to all the unions in the now roughly 24 percent of our—representing 24 percent of our workforce that are not under contract or in agreement—is we welcome further dialogue,” the mayor said. “We always welcome dialogue. My door is open.”