Northeast Times

A behind the scenes look at the FOP

Lodge 5 Pres­id­ent John McNesby

Ed­it­or’s note: This is the first in a two-part series dis­cuss­ing some of the key roles served by the North­east Phil­adelphia-based Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 5. Part One ex­am­ines the loc­al uni­on’s lead­er­ship, along with re­cent con­tract ne­go­ti­ation and ar­bit­ra­tion out­comes.

Even by labor uni­on stand­ards, Phil­adelphia’s Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice seems to get an aw­ful lot of pub­li­city. And in most cases, it seems war­ran­ted.

Whenev­er one of Lodge 5’s 6,400 act­ive-duty mem­bers is killed in the line of duty, the uni­on stands front and cen­ter in the broad­cast, print and Web-based news me­dia cov­er­age of the tragedy. And whenev­er one of Lodge 5’s mem­bers lands in hot wa­ter, the uni­on also makes head­lines, in­vari­ably as the af­fected of­ficer’s lead ad­voc­ate.

But be­hind the scenes, there’s a lot more go­ing on at the FOP than me­mori­al ser­vices and dam­age con­trol. The North­east Times re­cently sat down with Lodge 5 Pres­id­ent John McNesby and two of his pre­de­cessors, Bob Hurst and Rich Cos­tello — who each con­tin­ue to serve in ad­min­is­trat­ive lead­er­ship roles for the uni­on — to dis­cuss the loc­al’s fruit­ful col­lect­ive bar­gain­ing strategy, its in­creas­ing activ­ity in the polit­ic­al sphere and the im­pact of its re­cent de­vel­op­ment of an elab­or­ate busi­ness of­fice, so­cial club and ca­ter­ing hall in the North­east, where 68 per­cent of the uni­on’s 14,300 act­ive and re­tired mem­bers reside.

“I think every­body’s go­ing to have their own opin­ions. Some people are go­ing to call us bul­lies, but they don’t really know the face of the FOP,” McNesby said. “What we wake up and do every day is rep­res­ent the cop on the street. We por­tray a great per­sona to the com­munity, and [of­ficers] ap­pre­ci­ate that.”

McNesby, 48, and his team have been chosen by their peers to lead those ef­forts, hav­ing emerged vic­tori­ous in the last three uni­on elec­tions span­ning sev­en years. McNesby suc­ceeded Bob Ed­dis as pres­id­ent in Oc­to­ber 2007 after de­feat­ing Frank Zam­pogna with 76 per­cent of more than 5,400 votes cast. He re­tained his seat in 2010 and ’13, when he ran un­chal­lenged and was elec­ted by ac­cli­ma­tion.

McNesby, a North­east Philly res­id­ent, fol­lowed in the foot­steps of his fath­er George as a mem­ber of the uni­on’s ex­ec­ut­ive board. The eld­er McNesby was a lodge of­ficer dur­ing Cos­tello’s ten­ures as pres­id­ent from 1988 to ’90 and from 1994 to 2002. George McNesby also served as vice pres­id­ent of the state FOP.

The young­er McNesby joined the po­lice de­part­ment in 1989 and served as a patrol and tac­tic­al of­ficer in the East Di­vi­sion through 2002, spe­cial­iz­ing in nar­cot­ics in­vest­ig­a­tion. He ran for a seat on the lodge board with Cos­tello in 1990, but lost. A dec­ade later, John McNesby was named a lodge trust­ee. He left street duty in 2002 after win­ning one of the uni­on’s four vice pres­id­ent seats. His spe­cial­ties as a VP were griev­ance and dis­cip­lin­ary ne­go­ti­ations. Dur­ing Ed­dis’ ten­ure, Lodge 5 seemed rarely hes­it­ant to cri­ti­cize then-May­or John Street or the de­part­ment’s ap­poin­ted lead­er­ship pub­licly, par­tic­u­larly on is­sues of man­power and de­ploy­ment of re­sources.

Con­versely, on the heels of McNesby’s rise to pres­id­ent and Mi­chael Nut­ter’s elec­tion as may­or the fol­low­ing month, Lodge 5 has main­tained a markedly am­ic­able and luc­rat­ive rap­port with City Hall. That re­la­tion­ship stands in stark con­trast to the well-doc­u­mented an­im­os­ity between the Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion and oth­er mu­ni­cip­al uni­ons, in­clud­ing fire­fight­ers and AF­SCME Dis­trict Coun­cils 33 and 47, in re­cent years. 

“You have to have some kind of re­la­tion­ship with the ad­min­is­tra­tion, and our re­la­tion­ship with Nut­ter has been re­spect­ful and pro­duct­ive,” McNesby said. “We’ve had our knock­down, drag-out fights, but they’ve al­ways been be­hind closed doors.”

Ul­ti­mately, the proof is in the bot­tom line. Since 2008, Lodge 5 has won a com­bined 28.5 per­cent in wage in­creases through ar­bit­ra­tion, in­clud­ing 9.5 per­cent in raises over the next three years from the latest award is­sued on Ju­ly 30. In ad­di­tion, Lodge 5 mem­bers will main­tain their level of med­ic­al be­ne­fits, will be eli­gible for a one-time $1,500 pay­ment upon the po­lice de­part­ment’s ac­cred­it­a­tion by the PA Chiefs of Po­lice and will not be sub­jec­ted to fur­loughs dur­ing the con­tract peri­od. Act­ive com­mand­ers in se­lec­ted as­sign­ments were awar­ded an ad­di­tion­al 8 per­cent in “‘A’ dis­trict pay,” while the city was ordered to con­trib­ute $2.5 mil­lion in­to the uni­on’s leg­al fund, as well as $4.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally in­to the uni­on’s re­tir­ee trust.

Al­though achieved not through dir­ect ne­go­ti­ation, but rather through bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion un­der Pennsylvania’s Act 111, the con­tract is telling in that the Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion has chosen to hon­or the award without mount­ing leg­al chal­lenges, as it has pre­vi­ously with Act 111 awards for the city’s fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics uni­on. Mean­while, the 10,000 blue-col­lar mu­ni­cip­al em­ploy­ees of D.C. 33 con­tin­ue to work without a con­tract and have gone five years without a raise.

In achiev­ing wage and be­ne­fits in­creases, McNesby ex­plained that it’s not enough for the uni­on simply to make de­mands and ex­pect the ad­min­is­tra­tion to cave to pub­lic or polit­ic­al pres­sure. Lodge 5 and the ad­min­is­tra­tion have cre­at­ively saved the city money in oth­er areas, par­tic­u­larly of­ficers’ health care, to jus­ti­fy the raises, ac­cord­ing to the uni­on boss.

“When you’re ne­go­ti­at­ing, you have to real­ize the days of banging your chest for a raise are over,” he said. “You have to find where the money’s at.”

Since 2009, the uni­on has been sav­ing the city $300 to $400 per of­ficer per month by re­struc­tur­ing the way health­care ser­vices are de­livered to mem­bers. In the past, the city would con­trib­ute a fixed dol­lar fig­ure per uni­on mem­ber per month in­to a health­care fund used to pur­chase cov­er­age through a third-party in­surer. Hurst, who now over­sees the re­tir­ee trust, served as Lodge 5 pres­id­ent from 1982 to ’88. Dur­ing his 

ten­ure, the city paid about $120 per mem­ber per month. Dur­ing Cos­tello’s time as pres­id­ent, the pay­ments rose from about $500 to $800. When McNesby be­came pres­id­ent, the fig­ure was about $1,300.

In 2009, the city ap­proached the uni­on with a self-in­sured mod­el based on ac­tu­al health­care costs in­curred by uni­on mem­bers. So, when a mem­ber goes to the doc­tor, the uni­on gets the bill, which the city ul­ti­mately pays. Ac­cord­ing to the uni­on lead­ers, po­lice av­er­age about $1,000 per of­ficer per month in ac­tu­al health­care costs.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posed it in 2009 and we were quite skep­tic­al,” McNesby said. “Our con­cerns were everything from them pay­ing the bills on time to our un­fa­mili­ar­ity with the plan.”

Uni­on mem­bers have seen minor co-pay in­creases, but are not sub­ject to payroll de­duc­tions for the plan.

“With a lot of uni­on-run med­ic­al funds, there have been ques­tions about fin­an­cing. There’s al­ways a cloud,” said Cos­tello, who serves as the uni­on’s polit­ic­al co­ordin­at­or and sits on the ad­vis­ory pan­el for the statewide Pub­lic Em­ploy­ee Re­tire­ment Com­mis­sion. “But we’ve been able to show the city over the years that everything was go­ing to­ward what we said it was.”

Ed­it­or’s note: Part Two of the series will ex­am­ine Lodge 5’s es­cal­at­ing polit­ic­al pro­gram and its jus­ti­fic­a­tion, as well as the fin­an­cial and so­cial im­pact of the uni­on’s new headquar­ters, which it spent $9.5 mil­lion to ac­quire and con­struct in 2012 and ’13. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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