Cops, city reach tentative agreement on contract

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Police Department Emergency Services Union last week reached a tentative agreement with the city of Sweet Home on a new contract.

The two sides were set to enter binding arbitration on Nov. 15 but reached a tentative agreement on Oct. 25. They have been negotiating a three-year contract since April 2010.

The contract covers July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013.

The tentative agreement provides a 3-percent raise for police and dispatch employees for the 2010-11 fiscal year, no increase in 2011-12 and a 3-percent increase to salaries in 2012-13.

Previously, the city had offered 0 percent in 2010-11 and the addition of a 3-percent step in 2011-12 and in 2012-13. The steps would take effect on the date of the employee’s hiring anniversary.

The union had sought a 3-percent raise in 2010-11 and 5-percent raises in 2011-12 and 2012-13. The union also sought eight hours of compensatory time each month for police officers to offset what it believes are extra hours worked each month by officers under a 12-hour shift cycle.

The union was scheduled to vote on ratification on Tuesday. The council will decide whether to ratify the contract at its Nov. 8 meeting.

City Manager Craig Martin told the City Council last week that it addresses the city’s needs and is fair in light of the current budget reductions and revenue shortfall.

“It’s good news,” Martin said. “We’re not going to incur additional legal expenses going into arbitration.”

Martin estimated that arbitration could cost the city an additional $15,000, with no definite answer until after the first of the year, which would have made things more difficult, given the city’s financial status.

“I think it was a good outcome, especially after such a long and protracted negotiation period,” Martin said.

“The last two weeks have been the most stressful (during his tenure as chief),” said Police Chief Bob Burford. “The police staff have stepped up and acted as a troop of true professionals. They need to be commended.”

“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest that we were able to settle the contract prior to arbitration,” Martin said.

“It was in the best interest for the union to submit an offer to the city that the city could afford based on the current loss of revenue,” said Det. Cyndi Pichardo, union secretary-treasurer and bargaining team member. “Obviously, it’s not the contract we’ve been bargaining for the last 18 months. It’s not the contract we hoped for. In light of the current revenue loss, it’s a wage the city can afford at this time.”

The bargaining unit is about 14 months away from the negotiating the next contract, Pichardo said, and the union will continue to pursue its goal, which has been to make a wage closer to the middle of comparable cities.

The tentative agreement allows a reopener if revenues increase by enough to provide an additional 1-percent raise to officers.

According to union figures, Sweet Home police officers are approximately 11 percent behind the next higher-paid department on its list of comparable departments.

The reopener is recognition of the union’s request for wages to move toward those at comparable departments, Martin said.