From: Our Times
By: Marina Malikoff, 12/23/1998
SANTA PAULA – Police officers and dispatchers are planning their next move after contract talks broke down earlier this month. Negotiations for the 1998-99 contract year began on Nov. 6, but stalled after the union rejected the city’s latest offer of a 2% salary increase — half of what the union proposed.
“There has been no formal declaration of an impasse, but for all intents and purposes, that is where we are,” said union negotiator Robert Wexler, a labor lawyer based in Santa Monica.
Wexler called the negotiations an “incredibly frustrating process” and said the 32-member Santa Paula Police Officers Association is considering legal or other action to persuade the city to negotiate fairly.
The most recent contract, which was a two-year deal with a 9% increase over the term of the contract, expired Sept. 30, 1997. Negotiations for a 1997-98 contract ended without resolution Oct. 19, according to the city’s chief negotiator Julie Hernandez.
Hernandez said the city is offering a 1998-99 contract worth $35,000 — abit $56,000 shy of what the union has asked for.
“We try to treat all of our city employees equally across the board,” said Hernandez, adding that the city’s other unions received 2% increases. “At this point, all we have to offer is 2%.”
A contingent of union officers and dispatchers — with their families in tow — showed up at the Santa Paula City Council meeting Monday to present their case to the council directly.
“We are asking for nothing more than what is fair and just,” said Sgt. Gary Marshall, a member of the union’s board. He said officers spend their own money for high-powered flashlights, and that officer safety is jeopardized by vehicles in disrepair and inadequate radio equipment that doesn’t allow communication in certain areas of the city.
He also said officers are among the lowest paid in the county yet the city’s crime rate is nearly 10% above the countywide average due to a sharp increase in felony assaults last year. Starting salary for an entry-level police officer is approximately $34,000 per year.
Perhaps the most emotional plea came from police dispatcher Carla Samples, who described the daily stresses and long hours of handling community emergencies ranging from terrified mothers clutching babies who have stopped breathing to sudden silence from officers in foot pursuit of armed suspects.
Samples said she earns less than a maintenance worker picking up trash in the park.
The council met in closed session to discuss the matter Monday after its regular meeting. Hernandez would not discuss details of the session, but said she will attempt to schedule another meeting with the union.