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City declares impasse in contract negotiations with police union

By Staff | Sep 8, 2011

For the second time in only a matter of days, the city of Cape Coral has declared an impasse over contract negotiations with a local bargaining unit.

The city’s labor negotiating team made the call Tuesday after the Cape Coral Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 offered a counterproposal to the city’s earlier proposed 8 percent wage cut for officers, sergeants and lieutenants.

Union president Kurt Grau said the proposal involved a 4 percent pension contribution increase on top of the current 7 percent, and the contribution would be tiered over two years, reducing and returning to the 7 percent.

The union also proposed new hires have a starting salary of 6 percent less.

City labor attorney John Hament rejected the offer and declared an impasse.

“We appreciate the fact that the police union is putting forth some effort to save the city money, but the point is the nature and types of counterproposals and the conditions attached are simply unacceptable,” he said.

According to Hament, the union wanted a wage freeze on the condition that the department’s pay step plan would reactivate in a year and officers would advance to their correct step level and be paid in accordance with that step.

Frozen for three years, this could mean some officers would jump multiple steps.

“What we’re taking about is a pretty significant pay increase in one year,” he said.

As for the proposed 4 percent pension contribution increase, Hament said the union wanted the increase to be temporary, to “sunset” after two years.

“They want any pay savings to be in the pension variable,” he said. “Another unacceptable condition they’ve attached.”

Hament added that the proposal leaves little room to make changes.

“It’s locking the city into something for two years when we have such fiscal uncertainly,” he said. “We’re experiencing a total disconnect.”

Grau argued that the disconnect may be on the city’s side.

“We’re more than willing to come in and negotiate, but they’re not willing to move, not willing to bargain with us,” he said.

“We don’t feel that the city is bargaining in good faith,” Grau said. “They’re not willing to consider our offers, they’re not willing to make any compromise and they’re basically using us as scapegoats for their budget problems.”

He noted that proposal would have saved $790,000 over two years.

“We were shocked and disturbed by the city’s reaction to us making an offer to them that could save hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Grau said.

He added that they have never made outlandish threats or played games.

“We’ve come in and tried to compromise and make concessions to the city,” Grau said. “In retrospect, the city has made demands, they’re threatened to lay off officers.”

He called the impasse “politically motivated” and “a personal vendetta.”

“It doesn’t help the city of Cape Coral move forward at all,” Grau said.

Hament planned to officially declare the impasse in writing with Florida’s Public Employees Relations Commission no later than Wednesday. He said the city plans to waive the first two steps – mediation and special magistrate.

“We think it would be helpful to conserve resources,” Hament said.

By waiving the first steps, the issue goes directly to the Cape Coral City Council for resolution. The union can seek or request a special magistrate, but a special magistrate can only provide a recommendation to the council.

“We’ve very disappointed,” he said. “We had tentative agreements.”

On Thursday, the city had proposed an 8 percent pay reduction across the board after the police union brought forward a proposal similar to Tuesday’s, except that the 4 percent pension contribution was proposed at 3 percent.

It was the second time the groups met since the union membership shot down in a 185-1 vote a tentative agreement for a 3 percent pay cut and 2 percent pension contribution hike for officers, sergeants and lieutenants.

The agreements were expected to save about $800,000 annually.

On Friday, the city declared an impasse with the Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Union Local 2424 after the union offered nearly $1.5 million in concessions based on the stipulation that City Manager Gary King resign.

The prior week, the city had proposed an 8 percent pay cut for fire. It was the first time that the parties had met after the union membership rejected tentative agreements of a 3 percent wage cut and 2 percent pension hike.

Rank and file voted 166-0 to reject, while battalion chiefs voted 11-0.