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Police union contests college credit payback demand

By Staff | Dec 14, 2010

The local bargaining unit is fighting the police department’s decision to require 11 officers to repay wages that they received for unattained educational credits.
On Wednesday, the Cape Coral Police Department announced that it would seek repayment due to the officers’ failure to earn the required credits. Sixty credits are a provision for employment. When hired, the officers agreed to attain the credits within four years, but they did not, officials reported.
The city is seeking reimbursement for approximately $95,509 total. The amounts vary among officers, but range from about $3,554 to $23,195.
On Monday, the law firm Kunkel Miller & Hament, which is representing the city in this matter, received a letter from attorney Eugene Gibbons, whose firm is representing Cape Coral Lodge 33 of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Gibbons called the city’s position “legally unenforceable, untenable and highly coercive towards our clients and its membership.” He wrote that he hoped a “mutually agreeable compromise” could be reached with further discussions.
“Any implementation of the plan will be challenged in the appropriate venue,” he wrote.
Interim Police Chief Jay Murphy could not be reached for comment.
City officials declined comment.
“This matter is still being discussed between the labor attorney for the city and the labor attorney for the union,” spokeswoman Connie Barron said.
According to Gibbons, the city engaged in activities determined to be “unfair labor practices and violations of Florida law” by the Public Employee Relations Commission when it hired the officers with the provision
that they attain the credits. It imposed a “condition of employment” without involving the union.
Gibbons compared the Cape case to one reviewed by the state’s Public Employee Relations Commission when the city of Hollywood attempted to institute an educational requirement through pre-employment contracts.
The commission held that the policy “interfered with the status of the bargaining unit as the exclusive representative of its members, interfered with rights to wage increases and conditioned continued employment on obtaining the educational requirement,” Gibbons wrote.
According to police officials, the education requirement is mandatory for officers to move up in “step” levels and receive the higher pay provided at each level. The 11 officers were notified that they must repay the city for the additional dollars they received as a result of moving to higher levels.
“The Cape Coral police officers involved did nothing that could be remotely interpreted as unprofessional, unethical or illegal,” Gibbons wrote.
“More unconscionable is that the city of Cape Coral ignores the fact that some officers involved in the matter were actively deployed overseas in the armed forces which made it impossible for them to attend schooling,” he added.
The officers were given the option of having 100 percent of the funds deducted from their annual leave bank credits or having the amount pro-rated over the next 24 months and then deducted from their paychecks.
The police department also announced that each officer is required to obtain the necessary 60 credits ‹ 15 credits per year over 48 months ‹ beginning in January. They will be returned to what the city has determined to be their appropriate “step,” plus the officers will have their pay cut by 10 percent.
The officers were identified after Murphy initiated a review of department personnel to confirm that all officers had met their educational obligations. An internal investigation earlier in the year had revealed that an officer had received nearly $4,000 in incentive pay for a college degree he did not have.
According to officials, the review also found that one officer had met the requirements but had not received the appropriate salary increases. Officer Kelvin Thompkins will receive the necessary step adjustment in pay and the city will make arrangements to provide him with a retroactive payment.
In light of the problems identified in the review, the police department’s minimum qualifications were changed to require all newly hired officers to have 60 credit hours before any offer of employment. Officials said the
change eliminates the need for future pre-employment agreements.