The Long Beach Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, whose members have been working without a contract for over three years, has filed suit in State Supreme Court in Mineola, seeking to set aside an arbitrator's award that ruled that the unionized officers are not entitled to any pay raise. The arbitrator also ruled substantial cuts into the union's benefits.
The ruling by the Public Employment Relations Board was made public in October, and the board voted 2-1 against raises for the PBA, saying Long Beach does not have the money to meet the union's demand. The board's three members included a representative for Long Beach, Terry O'Neill, an independent member, Arthur Riegel, and Brian Wells, president of the PBA.
The PBA is seeking a 5 percent pay raise in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Wells said in an interview over the weekend that negotiations with the city "are pretty much non-existent.' He said he had talked "a few times" with Phil Ragona, who a few weeks ago stepped down as Long Beach's police commissioner.
He is to be replaced by Ron Walsh, chief of the Nassau County Police department's Support Division. Wells said that once Walsh is sworn in, perhaps by the middle of this month, he hopes that talks between the city and the PBA will resume. Wells said he has had takes with Simone Freeman, a city corporation council who recently vacated her position. Wells said "It has been extremely frustrating" dealing with several corporation councils in the past few years.
Wells said Long Beach was served with the court papers Dec. 29., City officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Herald obtained these papers through the New York State Unified Court System, where they were filed.
In the court papers, the PBA argues that the arbitrator's award "must be vacated and set aside" because "a relatively newly enacted" section of the Civil Service Law "is unconstitutional," "violates public policy," and that the arbitration panel "exceeded its jurisdiction and lawful authority."
The papers said also that the arbitrator's findings were "unreasonable and not supported by substantial evidence in the record, that the public member of the panel (Riegel) was biased against the PBA and in favor of the city" and that the decision "was arbitrary, capricious, irrational and an abuse of discretion."
The arbitrator said that not only should the PBA receive no pay raises but also that separation payments for new hires must be substantially reduced, because the city lacks the money to pay.
Long Beach has been wracked by financial problems for years, the result, city council members have said, of mismanagement by prior administrations and poor or no planning by those administrations. The city last February hired a professional municipal financial expert, Donna Gayden, to straighten out Long Beach's finances. Under Gayden, \the city has developed a five-year plan to regain stability. But Long Beach is still relying on borrowing to pay debts.
The crux of the PBA's argument is that the Civil Service Law, on which the arbitrator relied, is vague. The Civil Service Law, according to the PBA's papers. "mandated:" that, if the city is financially distressed, as is Long Beach, the arbitrator must base his or her decision on 70 percent of the city's ability to meet the union's demands.
"For a statute to not be deemed impermissibly vague, a reasonable degree of
certainty is required so that individuals of ordinary intelligence are not forced to guess at the
meaning," the PBA papers said. The union said the arbitrators' decision was "lopsided" and was based on what PBA court papers say is the vague Civil Service Law.
"There's no calculations as to how you can" come up with what constitutes 70 percent, Wells said.
The top best pay for a Long Beach police officer is $125,000, but it takes 10 steps to get to that level.
The union's papers further said that "the legislature has failed to provide instructions and guidance as to how to implement and calculate this specific weight."
The Long Beach police department about 60 members, 58 who are represented by the PBA