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Police union files grievance

By Staff | Feb 26, 2011

A local bargaining unit has now filed a complaint with the Cape Coral police as it awaits a hearing to determine if the city conducted unfair labor practices.
Gene Gibbons, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33, said he filed the grievance earlier this week. The union is claiming that the actions of the city to recover reported wage overpayments are violating contractual agreements.
Two weeks ago, the city began collecting repayment from 10 officers for what officials are calling unearned wage increases. According to officials, 60 educational credits are mandatory for officers to move up in step levels and receive the higher pay provided at each level.
As part of a pre-employment contract, the 10 officers agreed to earn the credits. However, they did not obtain the required credits and still moved up in step levels, receiving the higher pay at each level, according to the city.
Gibbons said the actions of the city violate the contractual agreement because the pay step plan has a section that outlines how and when a police officer receives a pay increase, but there is nothing about college credits.
“If it’s not in there, it’s not in there,” he said.
Gibbons pointed out other alleged violations in the grievance, including the punitive measures that the city has taken in addition to seeking repayment.
Eight of the officers have received a 10 percent pay cut, and the city has returned them to what officials have deemed to be their appropriate step.
Gibbons said there is a mutually agreed upon pay freeze that has been in place at the police department for a few years. As part of the agreement regarding the freeze, the pay of officers is not supposed to go up or down.
“So they’re in violation of that article,” he said.
The city is seeking a reimbursement of about $91,275 in total.
Gibbons said a class action grievance starts with the police department, before going to the city manager and then an arbitrator. Though a copy of the grievance was unavailable Friday, interim Cape Coral Police Chief Jay Murphy acknowledged in an e-mail that he had reviewed the document.
As the grievance process plays out, the city and union are still awaiting a hearing in connection to a charge filed by the union with the state’s Public Employees Relations Commission. Last week, general counsel for the state found reason to move forward with the unfair labor practices complaint.
“From this review I conclude that the amended charge raises novel and unique issues and is sufficient to proceed to hearing,” Steve Meck wrote in a notice issued Feb. 16.
Last month, the union filed an initial unfair labor practice charge with the state claiming that the city entered into illegal pre-employment contracts and coerced employees to enforce them. Meck later dismissed the charge for being untimely and vague. On Feb. 15, the union filed an amended one.
“The city had started actually taking money from the officers so we believed that ripened the issue,” Gibbons said Friday.
Prior to implementing its repayment plan, the city offered a two-week extension to the union in an attempt to find a mutually agreeable solution regarding the officers. When nothing came of it, the city moved forward.
“We were more specific and clarified our position in relation to the pre-employment contracts,” Gibbons said of the amended charge.
The union did not have an issue with the execution of the contracts.
“It’s the enforcement of those contracts,” he said.
The amended charge also included additional allegations that the union believed that the city had committed.
“We threw every charge that we could allege at them,” Gibbons said.
Meck dismissed the additional alleged violations, while the amendments the union made to the original allegation cleared up some of his initial concerns.
“They cured those technical deficiencies,” he said Friday.
Once a hearing date it set, a hearing officer will be assigned to the case.
According to Meck, a hearing of record then will be held and, as with a court hearing, both sides will present their case and evidence will be submitted.
After the hearing concludes, the hearing officer will offer a recommendation to the three-member state commission, which will make a ruling in the case.
Meck said the entire process must be completed within 180 days.
“We’re normally faster than that,” he said.
The city’s labor attorney wrote in an e-mail Friday that it is not uncommon for an initial charge that has been dismissed to be amended and then found to be minimally sufficient.
“The notice of sufficiency does not mean that PERC has found the police union’s argument to have merit, but only that those claims not summarily dismissed at this initial stage of review should be allowed to continue through the legal process,” Nikhil Joshi said.
“We look forward to the opportunity to respond to the police union’s allegations in the city’s answer to the amended charge, as well as during the hearing,” he said. “We are confidant that the city has bargained in good faith and has taken lawful reasonable steps to recover the wage overpayments.”
The city has 20 days from when the hearing was ordered to file an answer.
Gibbons had previously stated that the union would pursue all options available in fighting the city on the issue of the officers, including filing an amended charge with the state, filing a grievance and filing a lawsuit.
As of Friday, the union had not moved to file a suit in civil court.
“We have no intent at this moment to file a lawsuit since we feel we’ll get our fair shake with arbitration and with PERC,” Gibbons said. “We’re going to let those two processes carry themselves out.”