Student Loan Repayment Program Requires Union Negotiations

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of New York (PBA) represents officers with the NYPD. On October 22, 2007, the NYPD and the New York City Police Foundation issued a joint announcement for the commencement of a College Loan Reimbursement Program for NYPD recruits entering the January 2008 Police Academy class. The Program provided up to $15,000 over five years for each applicant to reimburse lenders holding the police officer’s student loans. At a new officers’ orientation meeting, NYPD supervisors informed these new recruits that those who had educational loans could receive this benefit. They instructed the recruits to fill out a form. To maintain eligibility, officers were required to continue their employment with the NYPD and remain in good standing.

At the time the Program was announced, the PBA and the NYPD were attempting to negotiate a successor agreement to their 2002 to 2004 collective bargaining agreement. One of the central issues of the negotiation was the compensation of newly-hired police officers, which had been reduced to $25,100 per year as part of a collective bargaining agreement which resulted from an interest arbitration award. In addition to higher wages for recruits, the Union had proposed a form of education pay for police officers, through which police officers would receive premium pay that was commensurate with their respective academic degrees.

Despite these negotiations, PBA only became aware of the Program by reading about it in the newspaper. The PBA filed an Improper Practice Petition (the equivalent of an unfair labor practice complaint) with New York’s Board of Collective Bargaining, alleging that the creation and implementation of the Program by the NYPD and the City violated the City’s obligation to bargain and amounted to “direct dealing” with PBA members. A court upheld the PBA’s complaint.

The Court found that “an employer’s discussions with union members concerning subjects of bargaining will violate the law if there is a threat of reprisal or promise of benefit or interference with the union’s organizational rights by compromising its bargaining position. Here, the NYPD did not threaten reprisal if the cadets did not take part in the Program. Yet, this fact is not dispositive. It is undisputed that the NYPD did communicate directly with union members, offering and then providing them loan reimbursements.

“The NYPD, believing that previously negotiated starting salaries were too low, created and announced the Program to help alleviate this problem without informing the PBA. The Program was announced while the PBA and the NYPD were in negotiations for a successor collective bargaining contract. One of the most important topics of these negotiations was the low starting salaries of new recruits. During the negotiations, the PBA had, in fact, suggested a benefit linked to education. Despite these ongoing negotiations, NYPD supervisors had face-to-face meetings with new recruits to offer them a wage enhancement in the form of the Program. To receive this benefit recruits attended meetings with their employer, filled out forms provided to them by the NYPD and were required to remain employed and in good standing with the NYPD.

“These actions were enough to constitute impermissible direct dealing in violation of the law. First, there is no doubt that through the Program the NYPD promised a benefit to eligible officers, which was not offered as part of the collective bargaining agreement. Second, the dealing between the NYPD and its employees over Program benefits went far beyond a newsletter communication. Recruits were required to fill out and return forms containing personal information and thereafter to meet the criteria set by the NYPD to receive and maintain their benefits. In essence, the NYPD and the police officers entered into an extra-union agreement concerning the benefits provided by the Program. NYPD supervisors then followed up with individual recruits to ensure they remained eligible for the Program.

“Third, while there is no evidence that the NYPD explicitly told the recruits that the PBA opposed the program, it is undisputed that the NYPD created and administered it without seeking the input of the PBA and, in fact, with the knowledge that the union objected to its implementation and believed that the Program undermined the collective bargaining process. Finally, hundreds of new NYPD recruits, who met the criteria by remaining in good standing, actually received the wage enhancement benefit offered by their employer despite the union’s opposition and the fact that wages were a focus of the on-going collective bargaining talks. It is clear that in implementing the program the NYPD violated the law’s prohibition on direct dealing, by offering (and extending) a wage benefit outside of the collective bargaining negotiations, and under protest from PBA, thereby subverting the PBA and the negotiation process.”

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Ass’n of City of New York, Inc. v. New York City Office of Collective Bargaining, 2012 WL 2018200 (N.Y. Sup. 2012).