The Uniform Firefighters Association (UFA) has agreed to a tentative contract with the city. Firefighters will receive an 11% wage increase over 7 years. That is 1% higher than the UFT civilian pattern setting contract negotiated by Michael Mulgrew and in line with the pattern set for uniform city workers. Health cost savings are part of the deal too. In addition, firefighters and the city agreed to go to the Legislature in Albany to seek higher disability pensions for those hurt in the line of duty.
For those who need a refresher, pattern bargaining means one union settles with the city on a contract for a given raise, then there is a pattern that the city adheres to when they negotiate agreements with other city workers. Breaking the pattern is virtually impossible. The civilian pattern set by the UFT was a 10% salary increase over 7 years. The pattern for uniform employees is a little higher. Pattern bargaining has been upheld many times by arbitration panels who settle or recommend contracts.
The UFA agreement leaves the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Corrections Officers as the only two major city unions who have not settled contracts with Mayor Bill de Blasio. The PBA is in binding arbitration. If they win and beat the pattern to actually win a decent deal, it will be one of the greatest upsets in the history of municipal labor settlements. My understanding, however, is arbitrators can only award a settlement for two years and the first two years of the uniform pattern are something like 1% and 1%. The PBA contract would be expired the day the arbitration panel awards it.
Maybe the PBA is hoping to break the pattern by getting increases higher than 1% and 1% for those two years the arbitrators will decide and then defeating this mayor to work on a better deal with a successor. Their tough talking, controversial President Patrick Lynch easily won reelection in June with 70% of the vote. Whether one likes Lynch, the police and the PBA or not, he has demonstrated that a union leader will be backed by the membership if he/she defends the rank and file with everything he/she has.
It may have been a better strategy for the UFT to let arbitrators recommend our last contract where pattern bargaining pretty much assured us 4% + 4% over two years as DC 37 agreed to a pattern setting 4%+4% contract without givebacks back in 2008. The UFT was in non-binding fact finding arbitration when Mulgrew settled for our nine year contract in 2014.
We could have taken the two year settlement and then held out for a better pattern for the current round. Had we done that, we would have had that retroactive money already and our salaries would be higher than they are today since the money from that last DC 37 settlement is being added to our salaries in stages through 2018 and the arrears won't be paid in full until 2020. If an arbitration panel would have recommended an arrangement where we had to defer back pay, the UFT could have said no and upped the negotiation ante.
The city may have struck a deal with another union to set the same weak pattern anyway but our back pay case would have been robust and we could blame the poor pattern as another justification for why we need the back pay up front. As an alternative, the Municipal Labor Committee could have let the PBA go first because they have the best case to make that police officers make much less than their counterparts in the surrounding areas. Besides the pattern, arbitrators also look closely at what other similar employees earn as well as the city's ability to pay.
Had we just stood tall, the economic reality is the city certainly would have had the ability to pay more than we are getting. If we wanted to help the city financially, we could have improved our working conditions as an alternative. We did not (school based committees on paperwork and PROSE schools are not gains in working conditions nor is interminable professional development on Mondays).
In the end, we didn't wait so the city pocketed the savings. De Blasio ended the recent fiscal year with a $5.9 billion surplus, thanks in large part to the miserly municipal labor contracts, and conditions in the schools have not improved. As I have been saying since May 2, 2014, the day Mulgrew set the substandard pattern that all city employees are stuck with, our contract was a missed opportunity.
*The title was changed in response to a comment and some offline stuff.