Koehler & Isaacs LLP secures a check on the power of the New York City Board of Corrections

For many years, the New York City Board of Corrections has stood as an obstacle to the safety of the staff in the City’s jails. During the current Mayoral administration, the Board has passed rule after rule making a dangerous job nearly impossible. Correction Department staff have suffered exacerbation in both the number and severity of assaults by inmates directly due to well-intentioned but misguided reforms imposed by the Board. The Board is responsible for establishing “minimum standards” of care for inmates and, consequently, has the ability to draft rules that extensively tie the hands of Correction Officers in their efforts to quell jail violence. 

The Board has repeatedly restricted the use of punitive segregation, which requires isolation of highly assaultive inmates. That restriction directly led to increased jail violence by inmates against not only law enforcement staff but against other inmates and civilian staff creating chaos in the city jail system. During 2019, the Board yet again published proposed rules to further restrict the use of this life-saving law enforcement tool. Koehler & Isaacs LLP took the matter to the New York City Board of Collective Bargaining claiming that the imposition of these rules constituted a safety threat to officers and that the failure to bargain with their union beforehand constituted an improper employment practice. 

The City moved to dismiss the case arguing that the Board of Collective Bargaining had no jurisdiction over the Board of Correction.  The Board of Collective Bargaining, however, rejected that argument.  It noted that the fact that the New York City Department of Correction is obligated to comply with the Board of Correction’s rulemaking does not eliminate the Board of Collective Bargaining’s jurisdiction because “it is well established that a public employer has an obligation to bargain over matters within the scope of bargaining even if it is complying with a law, regulation, or directive that it did not promulgate.” As a result, the Board of Collective Bargaining clarified that rules promulgated by the Board of Correction are subject to the same improper practice analysis as any other public employer.  

This clarification means the unions representing the over ten thousand members of the Department of Corrections’ staff can directly challenge Board of Correction rules at the Board of Collective Bargaining. For the uninitiated, the Board of Collective Bargaining is the local, New York City, version of the New York State Public Employment Relations Board or the National Labor Relations Board. As such, it is the only recourse for City employees’ and their unions’ claims of improper employer practices such as failing to bargain in good faith or interference, restraint, coercion or discrimination against employees in the exercise of their rights to form, join and participate in labor unions.  A decision clarifying the Board of Collective Bargaining’s jurisdiction over rule-making bodies such as the Board of Correction is critical victory for public employees and their unions. 

Howard Wien represented the union charging party in this matter.

Koehler & Isaacs makes Inmates pay for assaults on Correction Officers.

On December 13, 2016, a New York City Correction Officer was assaulted at the Otis Bantum Correction Center on Rikers Island by a detainee of the New York City Department of Correction awaiting trial on drug charges. The officer suffered significant physical injuries in the assault including facial bruises and cuts, sprains to his left wrist and left ankle and chronic back pain. He missed work for four months as a result of the assault followed by two months of medically restricted duty. He suffered psychological trauma and continued to suffer pain to his ankle, wrist and back for several months after the incident forcing his resignation during June, 2017.  The detainee was convicted and sentenced on October 24, 2018 to a term of five years’ incarceration and five years’ post release supervision for his attack on the officer. This conviction, however, provided no direct compensation for the officer.  

On February 10, 2018, another New York City Correction Officer was assaulted at the George Motchan Detention Center, also on Rikers Island, by five detainees. The detainees were members of the Bloods street gang. The assault was planned in advance in retaliation for the officer’s prior write-ups of their ring-leader who was being detained on attempted murder charges. The officer suffered a fractured neck and cranial bleeding in the attack. The ring-leader was eventually convicted of assault and sentenced to jail but that conviction, again, provided no direct compensation to the officer. 

During 2018, both the first assailant and the ring-leader in the second assault were transferred to Albany County. Both sued Albany County and New York City during June, 2019 claiming the transfers constituted a variety of civil rights violations. New York City and Albany County settled this lawsuit agreeing to pay these violent criminals hundreds of thousands of dollars. Neither New York City nor Albany County gave any thought to the Correction Officer victims of these criminals and the settlement agreement did not mention them at all.   

When Koehler & Isaacs LLP learned that these criminals were in line to receive such large sums of money, it sued them on the officers’ behalf for assault. In the meantime, Koehler & Isaacs LLP worked closely with the New York State Office of Victims Services to secure compensation for the officers. Under New York’s “Son of Sam” law, criminals are not permitted to profit off their criminal acts. Thus, where criminals are to receive financial awards, the Office of Victims Services can, on the victims’ behalf, obtain an injunction preventing the release of money until the time the victim’s suit against the assailant is settled. Using this process, Koehler & Isaacs has secured compensation for these officer of forty and eighty thousand dollars respectively, money directly reducing the settlement amounts reached between the assailants and New York City and Albany County with payments coming directly from those municipalities. 

Koehler and Isaacs LLP is proud to have stood up for these officers and ensure that inmate assailants pay for assaulting Correction Officers. 

Koehler & Isaacs attorneys Steven Isaacs and Howard Wien were counsel in these matters.  

Mount Vernon Cops Challenging City on Pay for Military Reservists

Jonathan Bandler, Rockland/Westchester Journal News

A Mount Vernon police officer on military reserve duty in Washington, D.C., in the wake of last week’s riots, may have trouble getting his proper city pay while he is away.

And depending on how the city handles his case, Officer Raiton Betty could join his sister and a third city cop in a lawsuit challenging how the police department is paying reservists.

Officers Samantha Betty and Thalia Santos claim they have had pay withheld since the fall while they were on reserve duty assisting with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s sad that the department has picked now to try and change the way this has been done,” said police Lt. Nicholas Mastrogiorgio, who became president of the Mount Vernon Police Association this month. “We’re in the middle of the worst crisis the world has ever seen and then to top it off with the unrest in D.C., it’s mind-blowing how they can do this out of nowhere.”

The city has yet to respond to the lawsuit, which was filed by the union and the two officers last month in state Supreme Court in White Plains. It names police Commissioner Glenn Scott, the police department and the city.

Reservist pay is not covered in the Mount Vernon police contract but rather in the city charter.

Read more here

Koehler & Isaacs Organizes the Unorganized

December 7, 2020 – Today, Koehler & Isaacs LLP’s client, the National Association of Transportation Supervisors (“NATS”) was certified by the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (“PERC”) as the collective bargaining agent for over a hundred formerly unrepresented employees at New Jersey Transit in the Foreman I and Foreman II titles.

Koehler & Isaacs LLP has a wealth of experience assisting its union clients to “organize the unorganized.” During 2018 and 2019 Koehler & Isaacs LLP client, the United Transit Leadership Organization (“UTLO”), was certified by the New York Public Employment Relations Board (“PERB”) to represent nearly one thousand employees at several subsidiaries of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority in spite of the employers’ classification of them as “managers” where applicable law excludes managers from union eligibility.

During 2019, Koehler & Isaacs LLP secured representation rights by NATS for several employee titles at the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. In the process, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) overruled the employer’s claim that the employees were “supervisors” which would have excluded them from eligibility for representation under the National Labor Relations Act.

Koehler & Isaacs LLP attorney Howard Wien represented NATS at PERC and the NLRB and represented UTLO at PERB in these matters.

Koehler & Isaacs LLP, File Suits to Protect NYC Correction Officers’ Employment and Contractual Rights

By: Steven Isaacs

Partner, Koehler & Isaacs 

General Counsel, Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association

Under the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association’s recent Memorandum of Agreement, The New York City Department of Correction (DOC) “shall send the union a copy of any directive or order affecting terms and conditions of employment at least ten (10) calendar days prior to issuance, except where the Department determines emergency circumstances make such a timeframe impracticable, in which case the policy will be shared as soon as practicable prior to issuance.”  This important provision exists for many reasons, including, before the policy comes into effect, (1) providing COBA an opportunity to review it; (2) possibly challenge it in Court; and (3) discuss it with the DOC in order to suggest important changes.  On July 24, 2020, the DOC provided to COBA a copy of Operations Order 10/20, which specifically impacts and modifies the command discipline process.  The DOC did not provide COBA with the ten days for which it bargained.  COBA filed a grievance, seeking arbitration, and is now seeking a Court order to stop the effectiveness of the policy pending arbitration.  

On August 3, 2020, COBA filed an improper practice petition with the New York City Office of Collective Bargaining seeking an immediate injunction preventing the implementation and enforcement of DOC Operations Order 10/20. Operations Order 10/20 permits the DOC to conduct Use of Force disciplinary proceedings as both Command Discipline and Memoranda of Complaints for a single incident. This will result in harsher penalties, duplicate proceeding and an acceleration of the loss of the Command Discipline option for Correction Officers. Operations Order 10/20 was implemented without prior negotiations as required by the New York City Collective Bargaining Law. COBA argues in its petition that the failure to bargain will result in immediate and irreparable harm to officers with both Command Discipline and Memoranda of Complaints currently pending and any who may be charged in either process going forward.  As the City has a mandatory duty to bargain over disciplinary procedure, COBA argues that the failure to bargain over Operations Order 10/20 prior to implementation violates the Collective Bargaining Law and that the instant nature of the harm warrants injunctive relief.