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The Mayor’s Irresponsible New Police-Union Contract Demands Closer Scrutiny

Issue 279

Massive pay hikes and continued abuse of overtime pay send cop salaries soaring while other city agencies are starved of funds.

John Teufel Apr 12, 2023

By now you’ve probably heard — NYPD officers are a big step closer to becoming members of the same 1% they work for and protect. They aren’t quite there yet — the 1% is really rich! But thanks to the new contract deal Eric Adams has struck with the PBA, members of the force with at least five years on the job could easily see themselves spring into the top 10% of earners nationwide if they are willing to hit the gas on overtime.

Let’s crunch some numbers. The new deal, which runs retroactively from 2017 to 2025, sees officers with five and a half years on the job hit a base salary of $130,000, a pay bump of about 50% from current five-year officers. Overtime, which for NYPD officers is any time worked over 40 hours a week, gets paid out at time-and-a-half. Even with the present, much lower salaries, Legal Aid’s Law Enforcement Lookup tool reveals that thousands of cops have managed to top $50,000 in annual overtime at some point in the last three years, and many have gone way above that, earning $70,000 or $80,000 or more on top of their normal salaries.

BANK ON IT: A disputed presidential election could keep the NYPD’s overtime budget soaring.

Let me now stretch the limits of my abilities and try to do some math to show you how overtime at a higher wage is much more valuable than overtime at a lower wage. If you assume an officer is making $84,000 a year, which is approximately the current five-year officer salary, that works out to around $40 an hour (not counting vacation and sick time). Overtime at that rate is $60 an hour. The new five-year salary, on an hourly basis and again without including vacation and sick time, is $62.50 (incredibly, more than the current overtime rate). That means the new overtime rate for five-year cops will be a whopping $93.75 an hour, a 50% increase. An officer who pulled $50,000 in overtime under the old contract will now make $75,000 in overtime alone for the same number of hours, on top of their newly bloated salary. (It’s easy for cops to create unnecessary overtime – officers themselves call it, in a somewhat visually disgusting euphemism, “milking it.”)

Cops routinely retire in their mid-40s with a gold-plated pension that is juiced by their ability to rack up overtime hours in their final three years on the force. 

You have to make $173,176 a year to make it into the top 10% of earners in the United States. This new contract will place a lot of rank-and-file cops deep into that ten percent.

Cops already enjoy arguably the sweetest perks in the New York City civil-servant firmament. After 22 years of work, they retire with a pension worth 50% of their annual salary, which is calculated to include their overtime pay. (They can retire at 20 years with a slightly smaller pension.) Even under the current contract, retired NYPD officers can go on to become quite well-off by taking up second careers, often in lucrative private security positions, where they are able to formalize their informal prior job of protecting rich peoples’ stuff. In the past, this generous retirement program (which sees some officers retire with full pension at age 43) was in theory meant to make up for lower pay. Now that officers will earn more than most other civil servants in the city, it is simply a gratuity, another example of how the PBA has New Yorkers over the barrel.

And of course, NYPD police enjoy a perk that could be described alternately as sweet or mind-numbingly horrifying — they can commit egregious misconduct in the line of duty, up to and including murder, without facing any consequences.

It is both a cliché and false to say that budgets express our priorities “as a city” — they express the priorities of the small number of people who vote them into law. But boy oh boy, are those people’s priorities whacked. Teachers with five years on the job and a Masters degree earn $71,290 a year, more than $50,000 less than cops under the new deal. And cops don’t have to have a Masters, or a Bachelors for that matter. Teachers aren’t eligible for overtime. Even if you prorate that pay to factor in summers off — that is, if you increase that teacher’s salary by 25% to account for June through August off — they come in over $30,000 less than cops. And they have to deal with demanding kids all day, whereas cops get to play Candy Crush on their phones with their pals. (Believe me, with clearance rates like this, they ain’t out there solving murders.) Also, I don’t know of any cops who have to buy their own guns, as teachers often do school supplies.

As an attorney, when I read about the latest Eric Adams-created outrage, my mind automatically goes to a simple question: How is he legally able to do this? In this case, I wondered whether Adams has the sole legal authority to obligate the City to this massive payout, estimated to cost NYC taxpayers $5.5 billion over and above the massive sums we already hand over to the NYPD. Can he just…do that?

The answer is yes and no. I know, I know. Stick with me.

The New York Civil Service Law (known as the “Taylor Law”) does exclusively vest the power to negotiate and enter into labor agreements with local chief executives, usually mayors. That is state law — New York City can’t do anything about it. When it comes to signing contracts with unions, Eric Adams is the only game in town.

This new contract will place a lot of rank-and-file cops deep into the top 10% of earners in the United States. 

But that doesn’t mean the City Council is obligated to fund those contracts. As the man who recently secured the winning bid to own the Flatiron Building, only to fail to make the down payment knows, it is one thing to sign a piece of paper and another to come up with the cash obligated thereon.

The City Council does not need to agree to a budget that incorporates this irresponsible, inequitable contract. Certainly it doesn’t need to do so without extracting some other serious concessions from the mayor and the NYPD, which off the top of my head could include disbanding the Strategic Response Group, reining in overtime spending, taking cops off mental health calls and removing final disciplinary authority from the police commissioner. 

Such an action wouldn’t be unprecedented. In 2004, the Buffalo legislature knocked down a proposed police contract over concerns about healthcare costs. In 2017, Rockland County legislators fought their county executive (the Rockland version of a mayor) over how to pay for a sheriff’s union contract. Outside of New York, Denver legislators were brave enough to reject their own police union’s contract in 2020. 

If ever a contract needed to be smothered in the crib, it is this one. Eric Adams has been slicing and dicing New York City government with aplomb, first targeting the school system and now moving on to demand 4% cuts from the budgets of nearly every city agency. Particularly gruesome, for someone who spent a lot of time in libraries as a kid, are the tens of millions he is trying to cut from the City’s library funding. To reward the NYPD — an agency that has not only actively failed in its mission to reduce crime but has taken a lot of innocent victims down along the way — while punishing every other New Yorker with cuts to vital services, would be to roll over and die. 

If that happens, we may as well disband the City Council now and admit that Adams is, as he so often claims, an emissary of God among us, and we live not in a city, but in a police department with some minimal public services attached.

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