A Brief History of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association
The Port Authority Police Benevolent Association (PAPBA) represents the finest police officers in the nation, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police Officers. Throughout its history the PAPBA has fought tirelessly for the rights of Port Authority police officers, insuring they are represented well and treated fairly. The efforts put forth and the successes achieved have established the PAPBA as one of America’s leading law enforcement unions.
While the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) came into existence in June 1928, it was not until January 31, 1940, when a Certificate of Incorporation was granted by the New York State Attorney General establishing the Port Authority PBA as the organization representing Port Authority police officers.
Through the years there were many efforts by Port Authority police officers to organize a labor union but, at every turn, they met resistance from the Port Authority. Their most powerful adversary in the early years was the Port Authority Director of Operations Billings Wilson who, according to an unpublished PAPBA history chronicled by Past President Bing Markee, threatened anyone with discipline and termination who attempted to organize. Prior to the issuance of the Certificate of Incorporation, four Port Authority police officers, Allyn E. Burby, Maurice J. Smith, Reuben B. Sperber and Albert A. Lustig along with noted labor attorney Walter A. Caddell signed their names to an application for a Certificate of Incorporation. It is said Billings Wilson was not pleased with the actions of these PAPBA pioneers and, it is reported, aimed his threats at these individuals. Interestingly, Police Officer Paul McCusker, who was not part of the original organizing but, is acknowledged as the first president of the PAPBA, took his concerns about Wilson’s threats to John J. Bennett, the New York State Attorney General, who assured McCusker that Wilson would not be a problem. Though the organizational history is not as clear as the PAPBA would like, it is believed Wilson no longer obstructed the organizing efforts but, Port Authority resistance to an organized, law enforcement labor union never truly ebbed.
The Port Authority used its ability to punish PBA leaders and organizers through the management prerogatives it still possessed in the years before contracts between the PAPBA and the Port Authority were executed. An early PAPBA president, George Colombo, sparked the ire of the Port Authority that resulted in the agency transferring him to a facility far off from his newly purchased home, a move causing Police Officer Colombo to resign from the PAPD.
Past President Bing Markee, in his research of PAPBA history, offers there were two important eras within the PAPBA history; the “pre-contract era” and the “contract era.” The “pre-contract era”, 1940 – 1970, was significant because of the strides made without the benefit of a memorialized contract. President Markee credits President Al Sgaglione, the PAPBA’s second-longest serving president, with using his “negotiating skills and power of persuasion” to advance the PAPBA agenda and membership wellbeing.
The advancement of the PAPBA to organized labor prominence commenced in the “contract era,” suggests Markee. The first agreement, though not officially recognized as a “contract” or “Memorandum of Agreement”, was executed between the PAPBA and the Port Authority in 1970, during the Sgaglione administration. The details and issues addressed in that agreement remain unclear but, the agreement seems to be the first time the PAPBA and Port Authority worked together on issues of mutual concern.
President Dominick Evangelista, who succeeded Sgaglione, always remained cognizant of the selfless work of the PAPBA pioneers, particularly Sgaglione, and drew on their efforts to propel the PAPBA forward. One major addition to the PAPBA team came when President Evangelista hired Al Osterweil, a prominent labor attorney, to represent the PAPBA in its business with the Port Authority’s formidable legal staff. In addition, because of the Port Authority’s bi-state jurisdiction, Evangelista also brought onboard Attorney Michael Axelrod to represent the PAPBA on New York matters. President Evangelista created a solid foundation allowing the PAPBA to sit in parity with the Port Authority’s considerable labor relations staff and deliver, in 1974, the first PAPBA contract for the membership.
The Evangelista Administration was followed by that of President Gaspar “Gus” Danese, the PAPBA’s longest-serving president. Again, President Danese continued with the road work paved by his successors. Under the leadership of President Danese PAPBA contracts excelled into the modern era of fair labor agreements. Danese was also successful in recognizing the need for political savvy in the PAPBA’s business with the Port Authority, a politically charged agency.
The PAPBA’s immediate past president, Paul Nunziato, was privileged to be under the tutelage of Evangelista and Danese during his long PAPBA tenure. President Nunziato faced and prevailed against serious attacks on the PAPBA from the Port Authority. Attacks, that if successful would have rendered the PAPBA ineffective. President Nunziato was able to bring together a professional, dedicated team to defeat the Port Authority’s powerful efforts to take away the basic rights of the PAPBA membership. This victory is considered one of the most important in the PAPBA’s history.
A member of Past President Nunziato’s team is the PAPBA’s current president, Frank Conti, who was elected by the membership and assumed the presidency on January 1, 2022. President Conti’s more than twenty years of PAPBA leadership experience positions him well to continue the exceptional representation of Port Authority police officers in all matters of importance to the successful performance of their duties.
The elected leadership of the PAPBA has always been the organization’s strong point. The leadership is elected to office by the membership with a mandate to represent the will of the membership. Strong, consistent PAPBA leadership has shaped the organization’s success of negotiating fair, beneficial contracts. During the PAPBA’s 78-year history, four presidents have served the membership for a total of 59 years. They are:
Police Officer Gaspar “Gus” Danese
July 1988 – December 1989
January 1992 – December 2010
Police Officer Alphonse “Al” Sgaglione
January 1957 – July 1973
Police Officer Dominick F. Evangelista
July 1973 – December 1987
Police Officer Paul Nunziato
January 2010 – December 31, 2021
Police Officer Frank Conti
January 1, 2022 – Present
There were nine other presidents who served terms ranging from six months to three and one-half years. They are:
- Police Officer Paul McCusker
- Police Officer William Varian
- Police Officer Robert Rankin
- Police Officer George Colombo
- Police Officer George Krieger
- Police Officer William A. O’Connor
- Police Officer Frederick McCluskey
- Police Officer Donald Whitmore
- Police Officer Bing Markee
An undeniable truth of the success of the Port Authority PBA is the leadership succession. A leadership born of humble beginnings that evolved into one of common cause, unity and a fierce dedication to the membership. Of the many challenges ahead of the PAPBA is the continued succession of competent and learned leadership. This cannot be understated when considering the anti-labor animus of the Port Authority toward its unions. The Port Authority has exhibited this animus throughout its modern history by constantly violating labor agreements at will. Violation of union contracts has become a Port Authority management tool, one it overwhelmingly loses through the grievance process but faces no punitive actions. Because the Port Authority holds this unfair advantage it is of the utmost importance the Port Authority PBA continues with a successful leadership succession.