As the contract talks between the city and the main police union have bogged down (as usual), much has been made of the NYPD’s starting cop salary of $25,100.
This measly amount (established by an arbitrator as a way to fund a 10.25 percent retroactive raise for all cops at the end of 2005) has become the poster child for the NYPD’s recruiting troubles. The department is authorized for 37,838 officers but is currently at about 35,700 and says it’s having trouble finding recruits. The 1,097 police cadets who graduated three weeks ago was about 1,800 fewer than the department had hoped for.
After two years of not weighing in on the issue, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has in recent months put the blame for his recruiting woes squarely on the starting salary, which goes up to $32,700 after cadets graduate from the academy. The press, particularly the Daily News and the Post, have picked up that ball and run with it. In reporting on the recent shootings of two cops in Brooklyn, News stories on successive days noted that one of the shot officers had joined the NYPD despite “the paltry $25,100 starting salary.” An earlier Post story even tried to blame the low salary—and by extension the department’s willingness to accept just about any recruit—for the murder of a Queens woman by her cop ex-boyfriend.
What hardly ever gets reported, however, is that the city’s latest offer to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association would start recruits out at $37,800 and increase that amount to $40,000 when they graduate from the academy. What also doesn’t get much ink is that the current starting pay is not what this contract fight is all about. Days off and maximum pay for veterans are.
In 1971, with violence running rampant, including assassinations of police officers by groups like the Black Liberation Army, the city and police union agreed to extend tours from eight to eight and a half hours. The extra 30 minutes was used to give updates to cops on what “conditions” existed in the various precincts that day.
Instead of taking that time in pay, officers got it as time off. A later contract led to the cops working their present shift of eight hours and 35 minutes. That extra 35 minutes adds up to 18 days off a year. Cops also get 20 vacation days annually, for a total of 38 days off.
James Hanley, the city’s labor commissioner, who has been negotiating police contracts for 35 years, says the obvious place for
savings is to cut the number of vacation days for new cops from 20 days to 10 during their first five years on the job. Those new cops would still get 28 days off annually. “Do you get 28 days of vacation a year?” Hanley asks. (Answer: No.)
PBA spokesman Al O’Leary says that such “givebacks” would cost the union members money. That offer by the city was rejected, causing the dispute to be sent to a state arbitrator. In any case, O’Leary argues that keeping the cops we have is as big a problem as recruiting new ones. He points out that 4,400 cops have left the NYPD over the past four years for better jobs. Using the city’s own estimate of $100,000 to recruit, hire and train each officer, O’Leary argues that the city has blown $440 million over the past four years to train officers for other departments.
For years, the PBA has harped on “market rate,” calling for maximum pay equal to what officers in surrounding police departments receive. “The MTA, $68,000. State police, 75. The Port Authority, 80. And Nassau and Suffolk are in the mid-’90s,” O’Leary says. “Jersey City, Newark, Elizabeth—even Elizabeth—are
in the 70s, and we’re basically at $59,000.”
With the case headed to the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, the union insists that it has a good shot. “Any way that the arbitrator wants to define market rate—any way you want to do it—we’re looking at a big raise,” O’Leary says.
The PBA says the city has the money to do it and points out that many police departments across the country have not only raised starting salaries but have also, in some cases, offered signing bonuses to new recruits.
But the city, fearing a domino effect, has demanded a one-size-fits-all pattern of bargaining in which all unionized city workers get more or less equal contracts. If the cops force the city to break the pattern, other contracts with uniformed personnel can be reopened automatically.
Other unions representing the huge NYPD, like the ones for sergeants and lieutenants, are on the verge of reaching deals with the city, but not the PBA. And the cops’ “market value” argument has never once worked in arbitration. “I don’t think history is on their side,” says Elizabeth Lynam, deputy research director for the watchdog Citizens Budget Commission.