An arbitration panel will decide soon how much of a salary hike New York City must pay the NYPD's 24,000 rank-and-file police officers, and its ruling -- if generous for the cops -- could upset the tentative accord with the city's biggest firefighters union.
Gambling on arbitration has yielded mixed results in the past for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. The PBA aims to convince arbitrators that city cops are underpaid compared with counterparts in the region, including Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration has placed its own bet: that the mold cast by the other unions' tentative contracts -- over 84 percent of the city's workforce and most of the uniformed unions -- will persuade the three-member arbitration panel to follow the pattern.
Although the city and the Uniformed Firefighters Association had agreed in August to 11 percent pay raises for the FDNY's nearly 8,000 firefighters, the union last month abruptly delayed a vote to wait to see how well the cops fare.
Unions bosses for firefighters had joined sanitation workers, as well as every other NYPD rank, in agreeing to the 11 percent raises over about seven years.
No matter what terms are imposed by the panel -- comprised of independent arbitrator Howard Edelman of Rockville Centre and one member chosen by each side -- the result will cover just two years, beginning Aug. 1, 2010, a day after the last contract lapsed.
That's the maximum period under the law, so the parties must return to the negotiating table for the period from 2012 on, and the dispute could yet again end up back before binding arbitration.
The PBA, which didn't respond to a message seeking comment, called an impasse in negotiations in August 2014.
If the rank-and-file gets the same pattern negotiated by nearly every other uniformed union, it would cost $207 million more for the two years being arbitrated -- and $1.58 billion if the pattern extended to the seven years negotiated by the other uniformed unions.
The administration has gotten from other unions promised health care savings that lower the cost to the public, according to a mayoral spokeswoman, Amy Spitalnick. With every percentage point above the 11 percent, the price tag goes up $34 million if it's applied over seven years.
The average NYPD cop, with overtime, makes $81,532, with base pay between $38,809 and $76,488, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy, a right-leaning think tank.
For more than 40 years, state law has granted police officers and firefighters outside of the city the right to seek binding arbitration, but their city counterparts only were granted the ability decades later -- an option the current leadership of the PBA has exercised for four of the five most recent contracts.
The last time the union opted for arbitration, in 2008, an arbitration panel gave cops a larger percentage raise than firefighters -- 9.7 percent -- but cut vacation time to 10 days annually from 20 during cops' first five years.
"There is some risk, even for the PBA," said Maria Doulas of the business-backed Citizens Budget Commission.
The arbitrators took more than a dozen days of closed-door testimony.