A.G. police union and city at impasse over labor negotiations

clambert@thetribunenews.comFebruary 9, 2013 

After more than seven months of unsuccessful contract negotiations and haggling over a proposed pay cut, Arroyo Grande has declared an impasse with its police union.

Leaders of the Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association maintain city officials are seeking a pay cut as retribution against the union for hiring an attorney to represent it during contract negotiations.

They say the city is asking them to take extreme cuts that amount to more than an 8 percent reduction in pay, including a 3.25 percent salary decrease.

Arroyo Grande officials, however, reject the allegation that the city is penalizing the union for using counsel during negotiations.

They say each of the city’s three employee unions were asked to take concessions to reduce part of an estimated $944,000 budget shortfall — and instead of agreeing to cuts, the union responded with proposals that would cost an estimated $150,000.

“The city’s final offer was designed to generate only the amount of savings determined to be the (police officer association’s) fair share,” City Manager Steve Adams said. “Meanwhile, the POA’s last offer continued to be absent any cost-saving measures needed to help address the city’s ongoing budget shortfall.”

The city made six offers to the union before it declared an impasse Feb. 6. It is the first impasse between the two entities in more than a dozen years, possibly longer.

The union is also publicly airing its concerns for the first time, with members saying they have agreed to numerous concessions over the years, have not asked for raises — and are consistently asked to cut further.

The association represents 35 sworn and un-sworn police employees.

“We feel we have supported the city during financial troubles,” said union President Shawn Cosgrove, a 14-year veteran with the department. “We’ve always come to an agreement, but the latest trend is concessions, take and take and take and defer. We’re tired of it.”

Morale within the department is low, he added, and pay cuts will cause it to plummet.

The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the city with the state Public Employment Relations Board in December, alleging that Adams had threatened to seek more severe concessions if the union used an attorney during negotiations.

In a response filed Jan. 30, an attorney for the city denied that Adams threatened the union. Adams had questioned whether the firm the union had retained (Upland-based Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir) could cause divisiveness but didn’t express feelings of resentment or opposition, according to the response.

Each union was asked to cut a certain amount equal to its percentage of payroll costs from the general fund. Police, with the largest share, were asked to cut about $85,000.

“We have worked hard to minimize the amount of concessions needed from employees to address the city’s budget shortfall,” Adams said, while trying to maintain fiscal solvency and service levels despite “tremendous financial challenges” over the past few years.

But union members say they’ve taken cuts for numerous years, and “have given up everything we can give up,” said former union President Shane Day.

About six years ago, for example, the union agreed to defer a 4 percent pay increase, he said. When union members finally received it several years later, they also started paying more toward their pensions — resulting in an overall decrease in their take-home pay.

Past cuts, coupled with the impact of several lawsuits filed against the department and Police Chief Steve Annibali, have lowered morale, the officers said. The complaints caused inner turmoil, created unfilled vacancies and resulted in more mandatory overtime for other officers, Cosgrove said.

“We’re bringing that back together, but that takes a toll on an organization,” he said.

The police officers’ association didn’t ask for across-the-board raises, but it did unsuccessfully request a higher cap on reimbursement toward college classes; “specialty pay” for officers with specific duties, such as those on the SWAT team; and extra pay for those working night shifts.

The union also contends that the city has not curbed its spending, but is asking the association to make up the difference, and questioned some of the city’s past spending decisions.

For example, Cosgrove noted in a news release, Arroyo Grande paid $9,450 in monthly rent for nearly a year in 2009-10 to the former owner of the current city hall building, even though the city didn’t occupy it during that time.

Adams acknowledged the costs were due to delays in getting approvals for the city hall project, but said the relocation has saved money overall by consolidating staff.

“If the city had not completed the project, the existing budget shortfall would be much higher,” he said.

The union and the city will now likely proceed to mediation. In the meantime, the next round of contract negotiations is supposed to start this summer.

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