Buffalo News: "Column: The odds for real police reform? Don’t bet the house on it"

Date: October 28, 2020

By Rod Watson | Oct 28, 2020

Under the Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment, police don’t get any contractual increases once the contract ends, but they do continue to get the longevity increases that were written into the old pact.

In Buffalo’s case, Evans said that applies to relatively new officers because it maxes out after seven years, at which point there are no more raises until there’s a new contract. He estimated about half the force is already at the max – about $77,000 – which would give the city some leverage if those officers want a raise.

Miles Gresham, a policy analyst with the Partnership for the Public Good, also notes that it’s not necessarily the case that getting longevity increases eliminates a union’s incentive to negotiate. After all, the longevity increase could be smaller than the contractual raise cops would like.
Officers got 3% hikes in the last years of the contract, which ran from 2009-2019, Evans said, while noting that in the early years they took zeros. He called that “huge” because of the compounding effect – or, in their case, the lack thereof.

In any case, the fact that half the force is not seeing any increase would seem to give the city a pretty big stick to press the reforms advocates want.
So make the city the favorite here, too – except for one thing: It may not have any chips to play with.
A major credit rating agency downgraded Buffalo last month. The city, meanwhile, is whistling past the fiscal graveyard while Washington remains deadlocked on a stimulus bill that could bail it out.
And Evans, who couldn't talk publicly about current negotiations, said the union already has a memorandum that locks in officers’ health insurance – always a big issue – through 2026 thanks to an arbitrator’s decision on changes he said saved the city $11 million a year but which were made without the union’s input, as required.
With officers wanting raises, but health care not an immediate concern and the city holding a tin cup, it’s even money on who has the upper hand here.

For its part, the Brown administration says the Taylor Law gives the union “great leverage in that it provides wage increases with minor concessions to health care and other financial benefits, making it difficult to negotiate any sweeping changes to terms and conditions of employment.”

Gresham agreed state law ties the city’s hands to a certain degree, but says that doesn’t mean its hands are completely tied. And both Evans and Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera – a former cop and head of the Police Oversight Committee – agree there are reforms the city can implement administratively without waiting on the union, though the city’s current plan to buy more non-lethal weapons is already being panned by activists as showing “a disconnect between residents’ urgent concerns and the city’s proposed solutions.”


Read the full column on the Buffalo News website here.