COBA Award Matches Other Union Deferrals And No-Layoff Terms

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By RICHARD STEIER | The Chief Leader

An arbitrator has ruled that the de Blasio administration must pay half of the overdue back wages it owes to Correction Officers in their Dec. 24 checks, with the remainder to be disbursed no later than next July 31, while also permitting the city to defer welfare-fund and annuity-fund contributions until next December.

In return for those concessions, which will bring about $42 million in savings toward the $1 billion that Mayor de Blasio is seeking from all city unions, arbitrator Martin Scheinman required that a no-layoff clause take effect for all members of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association through next June 30 that would be extended through June 30, 2022 if the city receives $5 billion in aid during the remainder of this fiscal year from the state and/or Federal governments.

Pay Raise on Schedule

 

He also directed that a 3-percent raise under the contract reached in late spring between the two parties be paid on schedule next June 1. The city's demand that payment be pushed back until the beginning of 2022 was one of the prime objections COBA President Benny Boscio cited in a letter to his 9,000-plus members in late October in explaining his decision to go to arbitration.

At the time, Mr. Boscio contended that the three-day time-frame in which Labor Commissioner Renee Campion Oct. 23 sought a response to her request that the union agree to defer the retroactive payments and more than $10 million in scheduled contributions to two union benefit funds was unreasonable. He also asserted that the call to defer that raise by seven months went beyond what five other city unions had been permitted to do to meet targets for savings set by the city.

The pattern for those deals that were negotiated had been set by an arbitration award by Mr. Scheinman in early October involving the deferral of half of the $900 million in back pay owed to United Federation of Teachers members under a 2014 contract. In his 18-page award for COBA, Mr. Scheinman said the terms were consistent with all those earlier deferrals of wages and/or benefit-fund payments.

Besides putting off the back-pay obligation for another seven monthsand thus easing short-term pressure on the city budget by moving half the far-smaller wage make-up for COs into the fiscal year that begins next July 1Mr. Scheinman ordered that a lump-sum payment of $9.45 million to the union's welfare fund scheduled to be made this year be put off to no later than next Oct. 31. 

Other Deferrals

He also directed that health-and-welfare-fund contributions for both active members and retirees that had been due to be made next March and June be pushed back and paid as a lump sum no later than next Dec. 15. He set the same deadline for the city to pay annuity-fund contributions that had been scheduled to be made as far back as six months ago in 28-day cycles.

Mr. Scheinman's award also requires that all COBA members be enrolled in direct deposit no later than next Feb. 1, or in time for their first paycheck after that.

At the time he sought arbitration, Mr. Boscio told his members that he had two objections to the conditions the city had set for extending a no-layoff clause in return for providing significant savings. One was that the protection would have been good only through next June, and even that assurance wasn't ironclad, since it hinged on there being "no further decline in the city's financial condition." 

 

And, he added in the letter to his rank and file, since the administration was already stepping away from the original payment dates for both the retroactive wages and the benefit funds (a big chunk of which was originally due back in February), "how could we possibly agree to a no-layoff clause with a realistic expectation that the city would honor it if present circumstances persist or worsen?"

An Insurance Policy

Under the award, the no-layoff clause takes effect with no conditions attached to it through next June 30, and would be extended another year if the stipulated $5 billion in outside aid materializes. The protection would apply to probationary employees—who could still lose their jobs for other reasonsas well as tenured Correction Officers, and any dispute as to whether a termination represented a layoff would be referred back to Mr. Scheinman for resolution.

The award also stipulated that any payments owed to members not specifically included in the deferrals must be made on the dates scheduled.

Mr. Boscio, who became the union's president six months ago, said in a Dec. 16 phone interview that he believed the de Blasio administration had "tried to take advantage" of his relative inexperience in the job by rushing him into making "a shotgun deal" on short notice.

He said he believed that notwithstanding that administration officials were pressing for a quick response to help revise its financial plan by the beginning of last month.

Cites Award's 'Good News' 

While he didn't get everything he hoped for under the arbitration award, he said he was particularly satisfied that Mr. Scheinman preserved the city's obligation to implement the 3-percent raise—in a contract that was ratified shortly before he became COBA president—next June 1, and that the portion of the retroactive money scheduled to be paid now will be in members' checks just before Christmas.

"I'm very pleased with this good news," he said.  

Ms. Campion declined to comment on Mr. Boscio's claim that the city had looked to take advantage of his inexperience, saying in a statement, "The City's policy is to treat all unions equitably and fairly, and that is what we are doing in these very difficult economic times."