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Local police union files complaint with state concerning Cape officers

By Staff | Jan 6, 2011

The local police union has filed a complaint with the state regarding the 11 officers who the city says earned wages for unattained educational credits.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 filed the complaint Tuesday with the Public Employee Relations Commission, claiming unfair labor practices by the city of Cape Coral.
“It’s in response to the city’s position that they believe the officers received money they weren’t supposed to,” Gene Gibbons, the police union’s attorney, said Thursday.
The city’s labor attorney did not return a message seeking comment.
Steve Meck, general council for the commission, said he will review the complaint and determine if the charge will move forward to a hearing or will be dismissed. If the charge moves forward to a hearing, it will be scheduled within the following 30 or 45 days.
Meck said only about 25 percent of cases move forward to a hearing.
Gibbons argued that the city conducted unfair labor practices by trying to enforce illegal pre-employment contracts, by attempting to garnish wages earned by employees and by not trying to resolve the issue with the union.
“The pre-employment contracts are illegal,” he said. “I don’t know how to make it any clearer to the city.”
Last month, the Cape Coral Police Department announced that it would seek repayment from 11 officers for their failure to earn 60 educational credits. The credits are a provision for employment, and the officers agreed to earn the credits within fours years when they were hired.
The city is seeking approximately $95,509 in reimbursements. The amounts vary from officer to officer, but they range from about $3,554 to $23,195.
Gibbons noted that the state commission ruled on a similar case when the city of Hollywood attempted to institute an educational requirement through pre-employment contracts. It held that the policy interfered with the union’s bargaining and wage increase rights and conditioned continued employment.
Gibbons added that the issue is not about educational pay increases.
“That’s totally untrue,” he said.
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 officers were notified that they must repay the city for the additional dollars that they received as a result of moving to higher levels.
The officers were given the option of having the total amount of funds deducted from their annual leave bank credits or having the total pro-rated over 24 months, then deducted from their paychecks beginning in January.
Gibbons argued that the pay increases received by the officers were not based on educational credits they were assumed to have had. The increases were tied to annual reviews and were the result of negations between the city and the union, he said.
The police department also announced that the officers will return to what the city has determined to be their appropriate “step” and will have their pay cut by 10 percent. The officers also must obtain the necessary 60 credits — 15 credits per year over 48 months — beginning in January.
Gibbons also argued that these decisions were made without the union.
“The city is not bargaining in good faith,” he said. “They unilaterally and arbitrarily set a deadline and have come up with their own remedies without sitting down and finding a resolution with the union.”
According to Gibbons, the union does not believe the officers have to pay back the money and it is seeking to negotiate a time frame in which the 11 can complete the educational requirements. The union wants to negotiate a policy going forward as to what the educational requirement for hiring is and define what happens if, say, an officer has to serve a tour in the military.