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‘Nothing’s resolved’ on police pay issue

By Staff | Jan 25, 2011

The city and local police union were unable to hammer out an agreement Monday regarding several officers alleged to have received unearned wage increases.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 met with city officials to try and resolve the issue of 10 officers that the city says received pay hikes for 60 educational credits that they were required to, but did not, obtain.
The credits are a provision for employment, and they are mandatory for officers to move up in “step” levels and earn the higher pay at each level.
“Nothing’s been resolved,” union attorney Gene Gibbons said Tuesday.
“We’re having a hard time understanding each other,” he added.
The city’s labor attorney did not return a message seeking comment.
“I think it was a general exchange of positions yesterday,” city spokeswoman Connie Barron said. “I don’t think anything officially has come from that.”
Last month, the city announced that it would seek reimbursement from the officers for reportedly failing to earn the educational credits to which they had agreed to obtain when they were hired. The city’s repayment plans were to kick in with the paychecks issued Jan. 27, but a two-week delay was later announced.
The city is seeking a total of about $91,275 in reimbursements.
Plans to return the officers to what the city deemed to be their appropriate step level and cut their pay by 10 percent also were pushed back to Feb. 10.
The extension offered extra time to find a mutually agreeable resolution.
“The short story is we didn’t receive any productive counterproposal from the union,” City Manager Gary King said Tuesday of the meeting. “They just really didn’t come to the table with any new approach … they had nothing.”
Gibbons explained that there were some obstacles in the negotiations.
One problem was how each party was defining the basis for the pay hikes.
“The wage increases they received were negotiated by the union and had nothing to do with the educational requirement,” he said.
Another issue was how each party was counting the credits and, in turn, which officers have or do not have the 60 required. Gibbons said there are only three officers who do not have the 60 credits by the union’s count.
“So really we’re haggling over three people,” he said.
According to Gibbons, the remaining officers have more than the 60 required credits. The instruction they received was just not “converted” into credits.
“But now the city is saying they didn’t produce them when they should have,” he said. “They seem committed to this position and I suspect it’s politics.”
As for the officers who do not have the 60 credits, Gibbons said the three were hired after 2006 and have at least 30 credits each, which again are not converted and not being counted. In 2008, the city froze pay step increases.
“So they didn’t come into any money they weren’t entitled to. Everybody’s been frozen,” Gibbons said. “But the city wants to go back and take money.”
As of Tuesday, the city was awaiting a counterproposal from the union.
“We have subsequently received notification that they intend to give us a proposal,” King said, adding that the repayment plans and wage cuts will remain on schedule for the next pay cycle if an agreement is not reached.
Gibbons said the union’s “last best offer” will include asking the city to review and evaluate the officers that the union believes are in compliance with the educational requirement. The union will fight the issue if the city begins garnishing wages.
“They want to take back wages, and we will not agree to that,” he said.
Gibbons cited re-filing an unfair labor practice claim as one possible legal option, as well as submitting a grievance and filing a lawsuit in circuit court.
Last week, the union announced its plans to amend and refile a charge it submitted to Florida’s Public Employees Relations Commission that alleged unfair labor practices by the city. It claimed that the city entered into illegal pre-employment contracts and coerced its employees to enforce them.
The city announced its two-week delay in plans in the days following.
The union’s original charge was dismissed Jan. 14. General counsel for the commission concluded that a violation had not been established because the charge that the contracts were unlawful was untimely, and the union was not specific in another allegation regarding its request to bargain with the city.
The union has 20 days from the dismissal to amend or appeal the charge.