After years of back-and-forth between the Village of Rockville Centre and the Police Benevolent Association, an arbitration panel has settled a longstanding contract dispute, giving the police officers many of the benefits and contract improvements they were fighting for.
The panel awarded officers two retroactive salary increases of 3.25 percent for 2010 and 2011, among other increases. Before negotiations began in 2009, officers had a six-step plan, in which they reached a top salary of $106,757 in just over five years. The village wanted to increase that to a 10-step plan, which would take an officer 10 years to earn that salary. The panel ruled that the new plan would have seven steps, and that the salaries of officers hired on or after Dec. 31, 2011, would top out — at the same maximum pay — after 85 months, or slightly more than seven years.
“The arbitrator’s decision was similar to recent awards in Nassau County, and did not address our requests for relief from the ever-rising cost of salaries, health care and pension contributions,” said Village Administrator Keith Spadaro. “The village was, however, able to extend the period to attain top pay to seven years from five years, and to more evenly distribute incremental increases. This, accompanied with the new Tier 6 pension system, will save substantial money on new hires.”
The panel also increased the village’s longevity payments to veteran officers. Like salaries, longevity payments increase in steps. Before the arbitration, the village paid $1,000 at the six-year step, which the panel said was among the lowest it had seen in a police department.
The PBA wanted to increase the longevity payments to a percentage of salary, but the panel ruled against that, citing “longer-term financial consequences.” But it increased the six-year step payment to $1,500.
The panel also hiked the pay of those on desk duty, and increased the amount that officers receive for equipment and uniforms from $850 to $1,000.
Representatives of the PBA did not return calls for comment, but in a position summary on the decision, the union stated, “The PBA seeks only to maintain its long-standing relative standing with respect to other Nassau County village police departments in wages, longevity and other benefits, and is not attempting to increase its ranking. The proposals of the village, by contrast, are inconsistent with the statutory criteria and have the potential for placing Rockville Centre PBA salary and benefits ‘grossly below’ averages in Nassau County.”
Terry O’Neil, the village’s lawyer and its representative at the arbitration hearings, voiced his strong opposition to the panel’s rulings in a dissenting opinion. “The PBA, somehow, remains immune from the burden-sharing called for and recognized by other unions (including the State CSEA and RVC Teachers) and the village’s CSEA and non-union employees,” O’Neil wrote. “The award is … an insult to all of these other employees who work many more days per year for much less money. The Chairperson [of the panel] should be made to look these other employees in the eyes and explain her insulting award.”
How arbitration came about
In November 2009, the village and the PBA began negotiations on a contract that was set to expire on Dec. 31 of that year. Discussions continued well into 2010, however, and, after an attempt at mediation, the PBA filed a petition to give the power to decide the contract to an independent arbitration panel.
“The Village of Rockville Centre highly values our nationally accredited Police Department,” Spadaro said. “The village acted in good faith and unsuccessfully attempted to reach a fair, negotiated settlement with the PBA. The PBA then elected to enter into binding arbitration, which is their right … We argued in arbitration that the interests and welfare of the public are a vital element of consideration, and that the current state of the economy and pressure on taxpayers is at a critical stage.”
Hearings were held throughout 2012, at which the village and the PBA presented witness, documents and other evidence in support of their positions. In late February, the contract was finally settled.