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Union brings new offer directly to Cape council

By Staff | Sep 22, 2011

The police union put a new proposal on the table Wednesday – directly into the hands of city council – offering nearly $807,000 in concessions.

The Cape Coral Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 sidestepped the city’s labor attorney and negotiating team by sending a letter straight to the Cape Coral City Council and City Manager Gary King outlining the plan’s details.

Under the proposal, union members would agree to increase their pension contribution 3 percent, from the current 7 percent to 10 percent. Kurt Grau, union president, estimated the savings to the city at $458,265.

In addition, members with five years or more of service would agree to take 40 hours of furlough time, while those with less than that would take 32 hours. The salary savings from the furloughs is estimated to be about $348,513.

Grau compared that to a 2 percent salary cut for the membership.

“We feel this offer is reasonable,” he said of the plan. “It actually saves more money than they were asking for from the police department.”

In July, the union membership voted 185-1 to reject tentative agreements for a 3 percent pay cut and 2 percent pension contribution hike for officers, sergeants and lieutenants. That totaled about $802,000 a year in savings.

Grau explained that it is more favorable for the union membership to contribute more to pensions than take a straight pay reduction. He said members are willing to freeze pay but are unwilling to take a direct cut.

“It’s too much, at this time, for them,” Grau said.

Furloughs were proposed early on by the union as an alternative.

“We felt it was reasonable to bring it back forward to show, here’s the money they’re looking for,” he said.

Earlier this month, the city declared an impasse after the union offered a proposal involving a 4 percent pension increase that would reduce over two years, as well as a starting salary reduction of 6 percent for all new hires.

At the time, the city was seeking a straight 8 percent wage reduction.

Grau said Wednesday that the new proposal, with support from city officials, could be ratified before October to help the city with its budget problems.

“If they were to accept it, I believe the membership would be willing to ratify it, and the city would start receiving savings immediately,” he said.

Under the proposal, the contract would remain status quo and would not be subject to further reopening or further modifications until September 2012, unless mutually agreed upon by both the union and city’s labor negotiators.

Thoughts on the union’s newest offer were mixed Wednesday.

“I don’t think it really accomplishes the right thing because, I think, the furloughs are going to translate into the necessity of overtime to fill in the gaps of those missing hours,” Councilmember Pete Brandt said.

Councilmember Bill Deile also questioned the furloughs.

“The police department all along, as well as the fire department, have been stressing that if there are layoffs, or something of that nature, that we’re going to have all kinds of gang violence, people getting murdered in their beds,” he said. “If we agree to furlough time, then that’s what’s going to happen.”

“We’re just not going to have the same number of boots on the street,” Deile said. “The level of service will be reduced.”

Councilmember Kevin McGrail voiced support for the plan, especially the tiered system of furlough time for newer versus older employees.

“The union membership recognized that the lower paid membership would have a tougher time with the 40-hour furlough,” he said. “I’m encouraged.”

McGrail called it a different proposal, and noted that if the city’s labor negotiators found support for it, it could be a win for all parties involved.

“I see no reason why we shouldn’t call this a win-win for the city,” he said.

Councilmember Marty McClain wants to talk more about the plan.

“I think the numbers kind of line up with what we were proposing,” he said. “It looks like a favorable and equitable offer.”

“It looks short, sweet and simple, and that’s what we’re looking for right now,” McClain added.

King could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Grau said the plan was brought up Tuesday in an informal discussion.

“I can’t speak for them, but I felt Mr. King was receptive to our offer and would be in favor of considering it,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to put it in writing and present it to them.”

Grau explained that he sent the letter outlining the proposal directly to the city manager and city council because it seems they are “not getting the full message” from the city’s labor attorney on proposals offered by the union.

John Hament, the city’s labor attorney, said Wednesday that he has been directed to respond to the new proposal on behalf of the city. He intended to release a response to the plan – and the full disclosure allegation – today.

Kunkel, Miller & Hament has been representing the city in the negotiations with fire, as well as police and general employees. As of Sept. 7, the city had paid the firm $74,318 for its services in connection to the police union talks.

It paid $54,348 in the fire talks, and $114,527 for the general employees.

As the city and police union continue negotiations, the impasse stands. The city has waived the first step – mediation – which one party can do, by law. The next step is a special magistrate. Labor law says both parties must waive it.

Hament previously said the city wants to waive the first two steps and take the issue directly to the legislative body, which would be the city council. The magistrate can provide a recommendation, but the council has the final say.