Cops reject city offer, opt for arbitration

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home Police Department officers and dispatchers voted Thursday evening to reject the city’s last offer and seek binding arbitration to settle a new contract.

The two sides met using a mediator on Feb. 11.

“Nobody’s position has changed,” said attorney Akin Blitz, a labor attorney with Bullard Law, representing the city of Sweet Home. “The city tried to change its offer to make it more palatable to the police officers association. We created a ‘what if’ or two in mediation.”

“The membership voted unanimously to go to arbitration,” said chapter president Randy Gill, a police officer.

He outlined the city’s offer and the union bargaining team’s final offers to the membership along with what he felt the employees needed to ask for, and they chose to reject the city’s offer, Gill said.

The union presented an offer during mediation that the city had refused to see prior to mediation, Gill said.

The proposal was for a pay increase of 5 percent per year over three years.

It also included eight hours of compensatory time per month for police officers who work 12-hour shifts. The union argues that the 12-hour shift adds more than eight hours of work per month for officers, and they are not compensated for it.

The city’s “what ifs” would have hurt the employees and were worse than the city’s current offer, Gill said.

The city bargaining team has rejected the argument and did not accept the request for compensatory time.

The city offered no raises for 2010-11. Under the city’s proposal, the salary schedule would add two new 3-percent steps. Officers and dispatchers would advance to the next step on the anniversary of their hire date after July 1, 2011 and the next step on the same anniversary after July 1, 2012.

The next step is binding arbitration. Each side gives a copy of its final offer to the arbiter, who then decides whether to implement one or the other.

In the best case scenario, it will take 90 to 120 days for a decision, Blitz said.

The police officers and dispatchers last contract expired on June 30. They are members of the American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees.

Gill identified an error in a Jan. 26 story in The New Era about the negotiations. The story should have said that the top Sweet Home police officer salary is approximately 11 percent below the average top salary in a list of eight comparable cities compiled by the union.

Police officers in Sweet Home are paid $4,131 per month at the top step. Dispatchers are paid $3,220 per month at the top step.