Eyeing police proposal, firefighters union will move to ratify contract

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The rank-and-file firefighters union will move ahead next week with a vote to ratify their contract with the city, union president Steve Cassidy told POLITICO New York.

Cassidy, who leads the Uniformed Firefighters Association, had placed the contract on hold until the union that represents rank-and-file police officers, which is currently in arbitration proceedings, reached a deal with the city.

This week, a circulated draft version of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association contract showed that an arbitrator had proposed giving PBA members 1 percent raises each year for two years, and nothing more.

“The initial feedback from our members was that they were surprised that the PBA is only receiving an award of 1 and 1, so they now want to vote on our contract as quickly as possible,” Cassidy said. “We are having a union meeting next week. It will be discussed at that meeting, and my guess is that we will have a vote to send the contract out for ratification shortly thereafter.”

Although the PBA contract released this week is only a draft, it was submitted by arbitrator Howard Edelman, who was appointed by the New York State Public Employment Relations Board and is tasked with hashing out a deal between the city’s labor chief Bob Linn and the PBA’s counsel.

Edelman has the power to make a final decision, which is essentially laid out in his draft, and the arbitration process is legally binding.

Since the release of the draft contract Monday, the PBA has criticized the proposal and protested outside Edelman’s home Thursday to voice its displeasure.

Cassidy declined to comment directly on the PBA’s tactics or on the contents of the draft contract, but he said it was clear that his own union’s strategy had paid off.

“I’m happy that our contract was put on hold because we got incredibly valuable things that we wouldn’t have gotten if we had waited until the PBA settled and gone to arbitration, Cassidy said. “We just wouldn’t have gotten it.”

Specifically, Cassidy said he was willing to accept Mayor Bill de Blasio’s offer despite “not being happy with the numbers,” because he was able to reach a deal in a long-fought battle over disability pension benefits for firefighters.

“Our seven year deal protects disability pensions for new hires, increases staffing for five men engine companies and protects all our staffing forever in our contract — two incredibly valuable components that we negotiated which is the reason we were willing to go ahead of the PBA,” Cassidy said.

Asked about why he opted to put the ratification vote on hold until the PBA reached a deal, Cassidy admitted there was skepticism among his members that the UFA was in fact getting the best possible contract.

“The truth is, we did not think it would pass, because some of our members were under the impression that the PBA could still get this great award,” Cassidy said. “As it turns out, that’s not what happened, and pattern bargaining held, and now we just need to ratify our contract with them.”

Cassidy’s negotiation strategy marks a break from that of PBA president Pat Lynch.

The two popular union leaders have usually tag-teamed their attacks on City Hall in the past, but they appear to have gone in different directions in the last few months.

As Cassidy negotiated a deal with the administration on his contract, Lynch pressed on in arbitration, in an effort to break the bargaining pattern already established by other unions.

But during Thursday’s PBA protest, UFA members who in the past had stood beside their police officer counterparts were conspicuously absent. And Cassidy was in Washington, D.C., lobbying members of Congress to pass the permanent Zadroga bill for 9/11 first responders.

Cassidy said his contract gamble had paid off in the long run.

“I’m happy with the deal we got. I’m not happy with the numbers we got, but the numbers were locked down by the uniformed coalition. That’s what pattern bargaining is,” Cassidy said.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for de Blasio, declined to comment but referred to the mayor’s comments earlier this week.

“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,” de Blasio said on Tuesday.

A PBA spokesman did not return a request for comment.

http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/11/8582079/eyeing-police-proposal-firefighters-union-will-move-ratify-contrac