By LIZ BUTTON
The Rye Police Benevolent Association filed a lawsuit against the city on Jan. 29 to dispute the state arbitration board’s Oct. 23, 2013, contract award on the grounds it excludes seven ex-members of the police force from receiving the same 3 percent retroactive pay increase as current members.
The PBA’s attorney, Christopher Harold of White Plains-based law firm Harold, Salant, Strassfield and Spielberg, said excluding those former officers from benefiting from the award significantly reduced their back pay, which is a function of what their salary is when they leave the department.
“For those who left the city and for those who retired, it has a substantial impact on their retirement benefits,” Harold said. “That was the reason they thought what was arbitrated really violated equal protection rights.”
The PBA’s last contract expired in 2008 and, since then, the union was in tough negotiations with the city, represented by labor attorney Vincent Toomey, up until Jan. 19, 2011, when the New York State Public Employment Relations Board called for the state’s public arbitration panel to intervene in order to reach a decision and award a contract.
Even after the most recent award, the PBA is still operating under an expired contract for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Now, the PBA seeks to modify that panel’s decision, which dictates that, for the two years from Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2010, police would receive a 3 percent pay raise on July 1, 2009, and a compounded 3 percent pay raise on July 1, 2010. However, the newly negotiated contract only accounts for officers who were members of the collective bargaining unit as of the date of the award.
In the suit, the PBA argues that in awarding salary increases solely to “current” collective bargaining unit members, the award only gave benefits to members of the association who were employed as of the date of the Oct. 23, 2013 contract award, a period that is almost two years outside of the statutory limitation imposed on the arbitrator’s authority.
Harold said the arbitration board’s decision was imperfectly executed since the board exceeds its two-year jurisdiction for the years of 2009 to 2010, excluding people who subsequently would have received greater pay for those two years had they still been working, so the provision affects their pension. As of the date of the award, there were 36 members in the police union, and of the seven members who did not receive the retroactive salary increases, one member retired in 2012, one member was transferred to another department in 2012, and five retired during the relevant two-year period from 2009 to 2010.
The city was served with the petition a day after Republican Mayor Joe Sack met with the Rye Police Benevolent Association during its Jan. 28 meeting, but Sack said there is no connection between the two events.
”I don’t see a connection with that [meeting] and how they asserted their rights in arbitration,” Sack said.
Contesting the decision is the association’s right, he said, and it is all part of the process.
Sack said he and PBA members did not discuss the nitty gritty of the contract at the meeting, where the PBA had casually asked him to drop by.
Once received, the petition papers were forwarded to the city’s insurance carrier, which has denied coverage, according to City Attorney Kristen Wilson.
The case has since been transferred back from the Westchester County court’s commercial division, where it was originally filed, to the chief clerk to be refiled in the proper court. According to the Jan. 31 decision of Westchester County Justice Alan D. Scheinkman, the suit was transferred because, while the application is to modify an arbitration award, it does not involve a commercial issue “since a review of the petition reveals that the underlying arbitration involved a dispute between the parties over a collective bargaining agreement.”
When the new contract award was announced in October, Rye PBA president Franco Compagnone told the Rye City Review that, while it was important to get a contract in place for 2011, 2012 and 2013, the police union would not hesitate to go in the direction of arbitration again if circumstances called for it.
Beyond the current ongoing dispute, the city and the PBA still have to sit back down at the bargaining table to complete an updated multi-year agreement that would require retroactivity to 2011.
Police union contract negotiations became a major issue when Sack ran against former Councilman Peter Jovanovich, a Republican who ran as an independent, in the 2013 mayoral election. Sack was critical of the city spending thousands of dollars on outside lawyers under the administration of former Republican Mayor Douglas French and questioned why French was pleased the arbitrator awarded the police a 3 percent raise when the police had said in prior negotiations that they would be willing to take a 2.5 percent increase.
At the time, City Manager Scott Pickup said the arbitrator’s decision recognized the city could reasonably afford a 3 percent wage increase for current members of the Rye PBA bargaining unit. In negotiations, the city’s focus was dealing with the long-term impact of healthcare cost increases and the ramifications of the 2 percent tax cap, Pickup said, so it came down to costs.
Compagnone could not be reached for comment as of press time.