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Union takes issue with cell phone policy

By Staff | Apr 21, 2011

The city’s new cell phone policy may have hit another bump in the road.
On Wednesday, City Manager Gary King met with representatives from the Cape Coral Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 to discuss their concerns.
The city instituted the policy in January, bringing an end to city-funded cell phones. Under the new program, employees choose from stipend tiers of $30, $40 or $50 per month, the goal being to provide the city cost savings.
In some departments, like the building department, officials have set up staffers with direct connect phones at a cost to the city of $5 per month per phone. This provides phone to phone communication similar to Nextel.
Gene Gibbons, the union’s attorney, explained that officers are using the stipend and the city is excluding the stipend from the pension calculations.
“Before they constructed and implemented the policy they should have negotiated with the union,” he said, adding that he chastised the city for putting the cart before the horse again.
“They apologized for the procedural mess up,” Gibbons said. “They realized they made a misstep and they acknowledged that.”
King explained that the stipend program was created over a couple of months and during that time literature was sent to city employees that addressed pensions. The union never came forward until just recently.
“We met with them today,” King said. “We we’re discussing what it might take to make it right, and would the program be acceptable to the unions or do we have to construct some alternative.”
The union’s president is expected to discuss the issue with union members and decide whether to accept it, reject it or partially reject it. Based on the feedback from the union, the city has some solutions available to offer up.
“We can go to a reimbursement policy instead of a stipend,” King said. “That would take the pension off the table.”
Officers could also get direct connect phones, like the building department.
“There’s a number of things we can do as alternatives if they don’t find this acceptable,” King said.
Gibbons expects the union president to have an answer within a month.
“We’re just trying to make it right,” King said.
This is not the first time the city’s new cell phone policy has come under fire.
Members of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association recently voiced their frustration with the new policy within the building department.
They said the program does not work and the change is impacting business.
CCCIA members claimed that inspectors are not promptly returning messages, or not returning them at all, leaving them hanging in the field.
They also pointed out that industry members agreed to support higher building permit fees across the board — from 8 percent to 1,365 percent — for a certain level of service from the city.
Part of that was the ability to contact the city’s inspectors directly.
King promised at the time to work with the CCCIA to find a solution.