Citing a gap in relative bargaining positions worth $1.9 million a year, City Hall negotiators have declared an impasse with their counterparts in the Police Officers Association (POA) over contract talks. The stumbling block, according to city officials, is how much sworn officers should pay into their own retirements. Based on the city’s “bottom line” offer, city cops have to be paying 9 percent into their own retirement by the end of three years. For experienced officers, that represents a loss of take-home pay amounting to $9,600 a year.
Traditionally, city cops have not had to pay anything into their retirement, but during the recession the POA agreed to make payments, albeit smaller. According to City Hall negotiators, the POA agreed to make such contributions if its members were compensated in the form of a pay hike. And that pay hike, they said, was on top of the 5 percent the union already demanded. Instead, city negotiators have offered what amounts to a very modest increase of 2.25 percent over the next three years, pointing out a starting cop makes $100,000 and a sergeant earns $180,000 in salary and benefits.
Attorneys for the POA expressed disappointment with the city’s impasse declaration, noting that City Hall is doing quite well financially and that the union has suggested City Hall could reduce the amount it pays into its officers’ retirement funds without requiring the officers to make up the difference. Pensions have become a hot political issue, and the POA — once a dominant force in area politics — endorsed three losers in the last council election. Beyond that, councilmembers on both sides of the aisle have grown concerned that 50 cents out of every dollar paid to a sworn officer now goes to retirement and that within five years that amount is expected to jump to 62 cents.
Now that impasse has been declared, the next step is for mediation. Should mediation fail, the POA can request a third-party fact-finding process. Only after that process is exhausted does the council have the option of imposing a contract upon the union, but then only for one year. Three years ago — in the depths of the recession — it appeared that a contract might well be imposed, and only then was an agreement hammered out.