Article from The Chief Leader
Seeks new contract, more staff
Patrick Cullen, who will begin a fourth term as president of the New York State Supreme Court Officers Association in July, has a full slate of tasks ahead of him.
The union leader, along with his roster of officers, including Patrick O’Malley as first vice president and Anthony Vazquez as second vice president, was for the third time running nominated with no opposition during the NYSSCOA’s executive-board meeting April 28.
“Reelection is a testament to the work the board puts in every day,” Cullen said recently. “I view this as a reaffirmation of that work which we’ve done through challenging times.”
Several challenges remain, though, with the first being to secure a new contract for his roughly 1,400 members. The union’s agreement expired a year ago. “We anticipate sitting down over the summer and getting something done in a relatively short amount of time,” he said.
‘We’re not involved’
But he also noted that his union, and public-sector unions in general, were being buffeted by what he said were anti-law-enforcement and anti-labor sentiments — the former from some corners of the public, the latter from lawmakers and other government officials — as well as the aftereffects of the pandemic on his members and on court operations, Cullen said that staffing remains an issue.
“A lot of it is coming from our employer. We feel that unions have become second-class citizens in the last few years. … We’re not involved in the decisions like we used to be,” Cullen said, referring to the state court system, with which he has had an occasionally uneasy relationship, if a more cordial one than his colleague, Dennis Quirk, the president of the New York State Court Officers Association.
Both have engaged in drawn-out discussions that sometimes spilled into public quarrels with the Office of Court Administration and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in demands for more uniformed personnel.
Cullen said the attrition rate among his members has again brought staffing to distressing lows, much of it brought about by a slew of retirements. He said officer staffing levels at state Supreme Courts in New York City and in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange and Dutchess counties were approaching lows that led to the union’s Campaign for Safer Courts in 2018, which preceded the hiring of a few hundreds of officers. “And it’s not trending well,” he said, adding that no hiring was done during the pandemic.
An Office of Court Administration spokesman said a 90-officer class will graduate from the Brooklyn academy in July “and be immediately deployed to the courts.” Officials are also hopeful of graduating another class this year, the spokesman, Lucian Chalfen, said.
Among the most pressing issues for both unions is the effort, ongoing for a few years but undoubtedly slowed by the pandemic, to consolidate the state’s 11 trial courts.
The consolidation, which would constitute a major makeover of one of the nation’s most labyrinthine court systems, requires amending the State Constitution. That means the proposal would need to clear both the Assembly and the State Senate in successive years before it is put to voters.
According to a plan put forth by court officials in 2019, each of those steps would already have taken place, the public vote portion in November 2021.
Cullen, though, said the streamlining effort is being guided by what he said were “high-powered law firms” with no input from the unions. “It’s a power play to get the court system the way administrators think it should look but without the concerns of employee unions, attorneys’ groups, judges’ associations and the public,” he said.
Chalfen pushed back against that assessment, calling the consolidation effort overdue.
“The impetus for Court Consolidation has everything to do with streamlining an archaic structure and making the court system far more efficient, taking an anachronistic system and bringing it into the 21st Century and nothing to do with outside interests,” Chalfen said in a statement.
“OCA already appoints many, many judges and justices in all courts, particularly in New York City, so to say that this is some new power grab is total fiction.”
Cullen said the union would look to discuss the issue with the legislation’s sponsors, among them State Senator Brad Hoylman, the chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, courts have ramped following two years of dormancy, Cullen said. “We’re past the adjustment period,” he said. “As the world has emerged … we’re encountering the challenges.”