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Mar 12, 2013 11:30 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Former County Legislator And Village Trustee Criticizes Police Binding Arbitration Process

Mar 12, 2013 2:10 PM

The binding arbitration process for police contracts has gone off the track and, despite attempts over at least 20 years to fix the problem in Albany, remains rigged in favor of “arrogant” unions, leaving municipalities cash-strapped, former Sag Harbor Village trustee and Suffolk County legislator Bill Jones argued at a forum he sponsored on the topic Saturday morning in Sag Harbor.

“I am not fighting the individual officer but rather the arbitration process that is severely flawed, as well as the [Patrolman’s Benevolent Association] unions that have grown arrogant because of that flawed process,” Mr. Jones, reading from prepared remarks, said during his approximately 40-minute presentation at Pierson Middle/High School before an audience of nearly 30, which included representatives of various local village and town governments, as well as at least two police officers.

“I stand far from alone in being a voice for change to a problem that is unfair and costly to local governments,” he said, citing recent Newsday editorials urging arbitration reform to ease the financial burdens of municipal governments.

Sag Harbor Village and its police union are in binding arbitration, the method of determining how much police officers and other public employees who are not allowed to strike will get paid should their union and the municipality they work for fail to reach a contract agreement. Last year, the village talked about reducing the size of its small police department because of high costs.

On Saturday, Mr. Jones outlined the Taylor Law, an article of New York State Civil Service Law that defines the rights and limitations of unions for public employees in the state. According to this law, in making a determination the arbitration panel is to consider the financial ability of the public employer to pay—and Mr. Jones argued that arbitrators have “advanced the notion that since a municipality had ‘the unlimited ability to tax’ then it always has the ability to pay.

“To me, this is an absurd interpretation, yet it prevails and guides arbitration panel decisions even today,” he continued. “It is this insidious, cancerous viewpoint that the taxpayer shall always have the ability to pay that has brought us to a point where, with minor exceptions, the highest-paid public employees in the counties, towns and villages of Long Island, by a sizable differential, are police officers.”

Negotiations, he argued, are merely a formality and a necessary step to reach an impasse, at which time the union can seek arbitration. The union, he claimed, is “well aware, based on the give-away mentality of the arbiters, that they will secure a more lucrative and generous settlement with few or no givebacks through arbitration.”

Police unions have time on their side, he opined, and know that threats to “outsource” their work are simply threats, which limit the municipalities’ ability to negotiate on equal footing with them.

He also described what he called a “leap-frog effect.” The arbitration panel considers recent settlements when arriving at a decision, but, Mr. Jones points out, “the panel has already given away the store in previous settlements,” and the costs keep rising.

“In reality, Sag Harbor, for example, is not just negotiating with its PBA, but every PBA union on Long Island,” he said. So, even if it were to agree to a wage freeze, that would be something that “every other PBA simply will not allow Sag Harbor’s PBA to do.”

Several members of the public spoke following Mr. Jones’s presentation.

Kevin Drew, a Noyac resident who is also a New York State Trooper, asked Mr. Jones his thoughts on teachers’ salaries, to which Mr. Jones replied that he had to pick his battles to be more effective.

Mr. Drew said he thinks Sag Harbor residents are getting a good service. “We can look at the two surrounding villages—North Haven and Sagaponack—that rely on [Southampton] Town Police, and I’m sure you could ask the residents what type of service they get.”

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride, in response to Mr. Drew’s comments, noted that Sagaponack’s police protection is based on property values and added, “It’s not the service, it’s the cost. ... It’s not about police bashing. It’s about affordable police protection.”

Sag Harbor Village, he suggested, where 40 percent of the village budget is for police protection, could have the same type of protection at a better rate.

Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano told Mr. Jones that his comments about what arbitrators do is his opinion and that, in actuality, “we have no idea what an arbitrator will do.” He said his department is going to lose another officer because he was recently cut out of the village budget. Another officer transferred out late last year amid an uncertain future for the police department in Sag Harbor.

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This limited discussion is the tip of the iceberg of municipal bankruptcies which will give unions a wake-up call when they hit, across all public employment, not just police departments.

"When" not "if" IMO.

Employment contracts which made sense a while ago cannot now be sustained after the globalization of the world economy. Unfortunately unions have refused to "bend" here, and will they will be forced to realize that the rewards they obtained for their members are now consigning ...more
By PBR (4926), Southampton on Mar 12, 13 3:53 PM
But when campainging for public office, Mr. Jones had no reservations seeking the endorsement of local and county PBA's.
Now that he has been released from his town employment in a postion that apparently was not needed, he is attempting to find a platform to keep his face and name out there.
Pretty sad.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Mar 12, 13 4:10 PM
Glad that Mr. Jones is open to change, and putting his years of service to good use. The issue of municipal bankruptcies is NOT going to go away IMO.
By PBR (4926), Southampton on Mar 12, 13 4:39 PM
did Mr Jones used to work for Southampton Town?
By CaptainSig (711), Dutch Harbor on Mar 13, 13 7:03 AM
Try the Reuters "How a vicious circle of self interest sank a City" article, its already playing out in Nassau County and coming east.
By bayarea (46), hampton bays on Mar 17, 13 11:42 AM
1 member liked this comment
The reporter should vet some of the information. A very important point Mr. Jones made, is completely incorrect ...... he stated that the Arbitration process involves Three (3) Arbitrators. This information is not correct, and troublesome, in that someone familiar with the process would know this. Arbitration is problematic for both sides of the issue, several points that Mr. Jones was also unaware of:
1. The process encourages unions to submit over the top negotiation requests, because the ...more
By harrisw (27), sh on Mar 23, 13 10:48 AM
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