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City moving forward; to seek repayment from officers

By Staff | Feb 3, 2011

The city of Cape Coral is moving forward with its plan to seek repayment from 10 police officers alleged to have received unearned wage increases.
On Thursday, city officials announced that the city’s negotiating team has reached an impasse with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 on resolving the issue. Beginning with the paychecks issued Feb. 10, the city will collect
repayment. Eight officers will also see a reduction in pay and step level.
The city is seeking about $91,275 in total reimbursements.
“We’ve tried to be very open-minded on the nature of the issue and how to address it, and it’s come to the point where we have to move forward,” City Manager Gary King said.
Last month, the city announced that it would seek reimbursement from the officers for failing to obtain 60 educational credits, which they had agreed to do when they were hired. The credits, which are a provision for employment, are mandatory to move up in step levels and earn the higher pay per step.
The city also announced plans to cut the officers’ pay by 10 percent and return them to what the city determined to be their appropriate step level. The plans were to go into effect with the paychecks issued Jan. 27, but the city announced a two-week extension to work out the issue with the union.
During a meeting Jan. 24, the union did not bring anything new to the table, according to the city’s labor attorney, Nikhil Joshi. He said the union stuck to its stance that the officers did not owe the city any money and that the pre-employment agreements were not enforceable.
There was “no meaningful counter to the city’s decision,” Joshi said.
“The union did not chose to counter or offer any proposal for any repayment,” he said. “There were no dollars put on the table by the union in terms of being repaid what was overpaid.”
On Monday, the city informed the union of its intent to move forward with the repayment and reduction plans if an agreement was not reached prior to the coming Monday. Despite the impasse, the city is considering proposals.
“We’ve kept the door open, but the union hadn’t responded,” Joshi said.
The union’s attorney did not return a message Thursday seeking comment.
Attorney Gene Gibbons has previously stated that the union will fight the issue if the city begins garnishing the officers’ wages. He cited refiling an unfair labor practice charge with the state, filing a grievance and filing a lawsuit in circuit court as three options.
On Jan. 4, the union filed a charge with Florida’s Public Employees Relations Commission alleging unfair labor practices by the city. It claimed that the city entered into illegal pre-employment contracts and coerced employees to enforce them.
The commission’s general counsel dismissed the charge, stating that a violation had not been established because the charge that the contracts were unlawful was untimely and the union had not been specific in another allegation regarding its request to bargain with the city.
The union had 20 days to amend or appeal the charge from the date of dismissal, but it was granted a 15-day extension to file an amended unfair labor practice charge Thursday. The union now has until Feb. 18 to file.