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NY Politics
Union Pact at Port Gave Leaders Perks
From the Wall Street Journal of Fri, 12 Dec 2014 09:56:24 EST
John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, October 2014.
John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, October 2014. Reuters

When the Port Authority and its police union set a deal to remake firefighting operations at the region’s airports last year, the pact included a perk for four top union leaders that enables them to transfer to the fire brigade.

The deal, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, gives union leaders including President Paul Nunziato the right to claim shifts on the airport rescue firefighting unit that handles such duties at Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy, La Guardia and Teterboro airports.

These so-called bumping rights were included at the behest of the union, the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, according to the authority. It was among the union demands championed by David Wildstein, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official and ally of Gov. Chris Christie who helped secure the union’s endorsement of the governor, and later resigned amid the scandal over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

Under the bumping provision the four union leaders—Mr. Nunziato, First Vice President Robert Morris Jr. , Second Vice President Michael DeFilippis and treasurer R.J. White—can accept a voluntary transfer to the ARFF Cadre, the firefighting unit at the airports. They “may bump any junior police officer out of any work chart or assignment” on the firefighting force once they have received the appropriate fire training.

The ARFF’s costs are central to a federal complaint filed Wednesday by United Airlines against the authority, which contends the unit’s expenses have helped drive up flight fees at Newark airport. United is the largest commercial carrier at the airport, serving roughly 70% of its annual passengers.

Police on the ARFF cadre are paid at the same rates as they would be on other police details, but earn overtime when firefighting obligations cause them to work longer hours.

People familiar with the negotiations said the bumping provision was potentially lucrative for the top officers, especially given the opportunity for overtime during ARFF training and on regular airport shifts. The ARFF positions could also provide a potential landing spot for current union officials when their terms are finished, these people said.

A spokesman for the authority said Wednesday that the bumping provision hasn’t been exercised by any union official. Mr. Nunziato and a lawyer for Mr. Wildstein didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Messrs. Morris, White and DeFilippis didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment relayed through a union spokesman.

An official at the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association said the bumping-rights clause wasn’t unusual. He noted that all union members have certain “retreat rights” that permit them to return to previously held job titles or to take part in training.

The union official also disputed the notion that the ARFF detail could be lucrative for Mr. Nunziato or his fellow union leaders, who are full-time employees of the union and don’t work regular police shifts for the authority.

Mr. Nunziato had total 2013 compensation of $173,975; Mr. Morris, $154,980; Mr. DeFilippis, $161,118; and Mr. White, $157,928, according to a Port Authority spokesman.

A position on the ARFF detail wouldn’t necessarily be the most beneficial for a police union official who wanted to return to active duty, such as to boost his or her pension level before retirement, the union official said.

“If that’s what a cop wanted to do, they’d work patrol,” the official said.

Mr. Nunziato’s name emerged in now-discredited testimony by the authority’s former deputy executive director, Bill Baroni, who told a New Jersey legislative committee last year the lane closures were part of a mishandled “traffic study,” and that Mr. Wildstein had developed the idea for the study after a conversation with Mr. Nunziato.

Approached by reporters last December — just days before Mr. Wildstein would become the first official to resign in the bridge scandal — Mr. Nunziato defended Mr. Wildstein, criticized New York officials of the authority, and explained why he would have taken an internal request to Mr. Wildstein, rather than the authority’s leadership.

“David [Wildstein] actually tries to get things done,” he said.

Write to Ted Mann at ted.mann@wsj.com



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