From: Visalia Times-Delta
By: Luis Hernandez, 2/3/2017
Lengthy negotiations and a fact-finding hearing ruling have failed to produce a labor contract between the Tulare police officers union and city administrators. The contract talks, already nearly two years old, are at a standstill and union representatives believe there’s no solution near.
“It’s frustrating for the guys,” said James Kelly, a detective who’s with the union’s negotiating unit. “We try to propose what’s reasonable.”
“We have been at this a long time,” said Roger Wilson, the Fresno-based attorney representing the officers. “It’s awkward for the union. The police are in a precarious situation. They have to protect the city. They can’t go on strike. The public sector can’t do that.”
In Visalia, the union representing the department’s officers and agents, 110 members in total, opened negotiations seeking to increase base salary –– $62,974.68.
At impasse because no agreement has been reached, negotiations are likely headed to a fact-finding hearing, where an independent party hears from both sides and makes recommendations.
However, because the fact-finder’s decision is not binding, negotiations may well continue even after a ruling is published.
“We always try to come up with some agreement with the city,” said Thomas Higgins, Visalia Police Officers Association president. “We’ll see where the process takes us.”
The fact-finding process is territory well known to the officers who belong to the Tulare police union. Held in late November, the hearing came after the two sides met 14 times between April 2015 and March 2016 without a resolution.
Salary increases, education incentives and restoring personal days off have been the biggest hurdles.
The city made two offers.
The first, to be effective from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, called for a 5 percent increase and added one personal day.
The city’s second offer was multi-year and called for:
• A 3 percent increase effective the second pay period of January 2016.
• A 3 percent increase effective the second pay period of January 2017.
• A 4.75 percent increase in January 2018. The 2018 raise would help offset union members’ 3 percent contribution to their retirement.
• The agreement would also allow for re-opening contract negotiations in March 2017.
In contrast, the union proposed:
• A 5 percent salary increase retroactive to July 1, 2015.
• A 5 percent salary increase retroactive to July 1, 2016.
• A 6 percent salary increase starting July 1, 2017. The 2017 increase was to be used to offset a 3 percent contribution to their retirement fund.
• The union’s proposal also called for two personal days.
• The union also wanted an education incentive program similar to what the fire department offers.
Except for 2014, the Tulare police union hasn’t received a salary increase since 2010.
Kelly said the police union accepted city administrators’ position money was tight and passed on increases.
However, according to an audit paid for by the Union, Tulare had a healthy saving. According to the audit, Tulare had healthy reserves in 2010 recording $10 million and on 2015 reaching $26 million.
“They claimed a shortage,” Kelley said.
The lack of salary increases showed when compared with other cities. Tulare police officers are making 26 percent less than officers in cities such as Hanford, Visalia, Porterville and Dinuba in the county and Tracy, Manteca and Merced in the Valley.
“Ten years ago, we used to draw people from those agencies,” Kelly said. “We were a higher paying department. We don’t have that anymore.”
Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones said he doesn’t want Tulare police officers going to other police departments because of salary.
“We shouldn’t be losing officers,” he said. “We need to step our game up.”
A former Tulare firefighter, Jones now works for Fresno fire, where he’s also a union representative.
“I understand their frustration,” he said, referring to the police officers. “My message to them: Hang in there. We are close to finding a solution. We are going to do right by our officers.”
Paul Melikian, Tulare assistant city manager, said negotiations are on-going.
“We are hoping we can reach an agreement,” he said. “We are negotiating. It’s part of daily operations.”
Melikian also said a lack of a contract with the city’s largest, most expensive unit is something to worry about.
“This is of significant concern for the city,” he said. “That’s something we want to get resolved.”
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While negotiating with the police union, Melikian said city administrators have to consider all employees and the budget.
“We are looking at the overall picture,” he said. “There are other costs. We have to balance our budget every year. That puts a lot of pressure on us.”
Melikian continued: “We value our employees. The city wouldn’t run without them. We are financially prudent.”
When the two sides didn’t reach an agreement, they went into fact-finding, a new recourse following a 2012 law.
After the two sides presented their evidence, a ruling sided with the union. Part of the finding included components to settle the proposal:
• A 3 percent salary increase the second pay period of January 2016.
• A 4 percent salary increase the second pay period of January 2017.
• A 5.75 salary increase starting January 2018. The increase was to help pay the 3 percent increase to the retirement fund.
• Adding one personal day off in each fiscal year.
• An education incentive similar to the one the fire department has.
After the ruling, the union made their offer, only adding the request to add a personal day.
The city declined the offer.
“The offers from the city take into account the overall standing of the city,” Melikian said. “We always want to bargain in good faith.”
Wilson, the attorney for the union, said the city can easily meet the salary demands using reserves. He also wanted the union to have a meeting with the current council. Wilson said a direct meeting would help present the union’s case directly to those who make a decision.
The city’s negotiator denied the meeting. Melikian said he didn’t know if such meeting was within labor laws.
Jones said he would like to see an agreement reached soon.
“I do believe we will reach an agreement that’s good for the union,” he said. “Something that’s acceptable to the council.”
Jose Sigala, elected to Tulare council in November, said he also would like an agreement reached.
“I know it can be frustrating,” he said. “I am hoping there can be dialogue.”
Jones said the police union took a good approach by working without a current contract.
“They were right by waiting it out and getting politically involved,” he said. “I believe it will work out in their favor.”
When considering a new agreement, Tulare council will be cautious, Jones said.
“The council won’t be financially irresponsible,” he said.
In Tulare, the police union represents 58 members, including the officers and sergeants. The department’s lieutenants and captains are considered middle management and police chief is a department head, considered an independent contractor.
On Monday, Tulare council will take up the contract issue during closed session.
In Visalia, the city to the north
Similar to Tulare, Visalia police union and city administrators are negotiating a labor contract.
And it seems like a solution may be close.
Leslie Caviglia, assistant city manager, said Visalia council will consider an item related to the contract during Monday’s meeting. The item may receive council approval.
Higgins is hopeful.
“They put together a couple of things and they may be agreeable to the council,” he said.
If it receives council approval, the item proposed will go before the union’s membership for consideration, Higgins said.
Contract negotiations in Visalia started in April with a two-year contract in effect. The Visalia police union opened negotiations seeking an increase in base pay. The officers sought a 2 percent increase.
In Visalia, the police Union represents 110 members officers and agents. Department members with a higher rank have a different bargaining unit.
Higgins said the union seeks to represent its members well while working with city administrators.
Caviglia said she can’t address specifics because of the on-going negotiation.
Higgins said he can’t provide details either, but the items being discussed will help employees and recruits.
Labor contract negotiations that include fact-finding process are lengthy and expensive, Higgins said. The police union would want a different way.
“We would prefer it to be shorter instead of going on for a year,” he said. “It would be easier for everybody.”