And Then There Were Two

There’s a deal in the long-running negotiations between New York City and the union representing rank-and-file firefighters. You can find the details here. The gist of it is 11% spread over seven years, an amount that is likely to increase the spread between New York wages and surrounding jurisdictions, which are almost all paid at higher levels.

What’s at work here? The article gently alludes to it. New York is one of the last cities to adhere to “pattern bargaining,” a system where all represented employees receive the same wage and benefit adjustments. It’s possible to move money around within the overall settlement — something the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association did a number of years ago when it lowered entry level pay in order to fund top step pay — but deviation from the overall pattern is extraordinarily rare. Though NYC negotiations theoretically end in binding arbitration, most arbitrators feel compelled to follow the pattern.

The adherence to “pattern” distinguishes New York from virtually all other cities in the country. Most cities look at police and fire on their own merits, with settlements for public safety not necessarily tracking what non-public safety employees receive. Not even police and fire receive the same adjustments — something we’ve seen with the virtual end of police-fire parity in the last 20 years. Academics argue against pattern bargaining. Even a presidential commission once issued a report called “The Challenge Of Crime In A Free Society” that decried pattern bargaining and called for assessing at least police wages on an individual basis.

But pattern bargaining lives on in New York City, as this firefighter settlement shows (the pattern, set by civilian and teacher unions, is 11% over seven years).

Now only the corrections union and the PBA are without contracts. Members of the PBA have been without a raise for five years. While you’d think a lack of a raise for five years would pose political problem for the union, Pat Lynch, the PBA’s president, was just handily reelected for a new term.