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. ••