Police union, Hochul OK 4-year contract
20-year retirement for DEC officers not included
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration has reached a four-year labor agreement with the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, the union that represents forest rangers, environmental conservation officers and other law enforcement around the state.
The contract gives a 2% salary increase for rangers, ECOs, university police and park police for each year of the agreement, though it does not provide a long-awaited 20-year retirement package for rangers and ECOs.
The four-year agreement was announced on Tuesday, and according to the governor’s office, the contract expires in just over a year, on March 31, 2023. PBANYS President Manny Vilar said that the contract will retroactively stretch from April 1, 2019 through next March. When asked why the contract came around nearly three years after the previous contract expired, Vilar said that the PBANYS was trying to negotiate a contract for those three years, but he noted that “these are always complex matters.”
“It’s important that the (governor’s) administration remains focused on negotiations, and once we had the attention of the administration, we were able to iron out our differences on some key issues and we were able to settle this contract,” Vilar said.
The PBANYS asked Gov. Hochul in January to consider renewing a contract for park police, SUNY police, ECOs and forest rangers, which the contract covers. Those officers had been working for around three years without a contract, and those agencies — SUNY, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation — are the few agencies in the state that don’t afford their officers a 20-year retirement option.
In addition to the new contract’s annual 2% salary bump, which most state employees already have, the agreement also resolved over 160 grievances and “other litigation” and increased funding for training and benefits programs, according to the governor’s office. That increase in funding did not include a 20-year retirement plan for the DEC’s environmental conservation officers, forest rangers, SUNY police or OPRHP police.
Hochul vetoed a bill last year that would have granted forest rangers and environmental conservation officers retirement after 20 years of service instead of 25, saying that changes to retirement benefits should go through a collective bargaining process rather than legislation.
However, Vilar said Tuesday that retirement plans could not be taken up in collective bargaining pursuant to state law. He confirmed that the PBANYS is in discussion with the governor’s office in hopes that the governor could fold the 20-year retirement plan into her final budget book for the 2023 fiscal year.
Vilar said that not having the 20-year retirement is a detriment to recruitment efforts for all four titles. He believes it’s the reason for the “massive attrition problem” at the OPRHP police and SUNY police levels. He said that attrition at the OPRHP police hovers around 53% after five years, and attrition at the SUNY level is around the “high 40%” mark after five years. He did not cite attrition rates for ECOs and forest rangers, but he expects that problem could trickle down to other police titles.
“The massive loss of personnel, the retention and attrition problems we’re experiencing at the park police and SUNY, will ultimately — unless there’s some proactive action taken — be followed by our environmental conservation police and forest ranger titles,” Vilar said. “These things don’t happen in a vacuum.”
The forest rangers are already experiencing some issues with attrition, retention and recruitment. Environmental advocacy groups, representatives of the PBANYS and elected officials around the Adirondacks have called for more forest rangers for years as the state continues to add more land to the forest preserve and the number of visitors to the forest preserve continues to grow. Vilar believes these issues could be solved with some forethought.
“It really is to the state’s advantage and the benefit of everyone for these issues to be solved proactively as opposed to after the fact,” he said.
Vilar touted the added funding for training under the new four-year agreement. Especially for specialized officers, like forest rangers and ECOs, Vilar said more extensive training is needed more often. That training is expensive, he added.
“You know, you can’t practice dangling out of a helicopter on Mount Marcy once a year and expect everything to go well,” he said.
Overall, Vilar said the new contract is a good one that resolves a lot of issues. He said that moving forward, the PBANYS is focused on securing the 20-year retirement plan for all officers — a plan Vilar said around 90% of state police departments already have — as well as securing geographic pay for officers downstate.