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City, police make final push for contract deal

POSTED July 15, 2011 10:44 p.m.

The Turlock Association of Police Officers is back at the table with the City of Turlock in a final effort to negotiate a deal appeasable to both sides, after narrowly avoiding an imposed contract agreement.

On Tuesday the police officers union was facing the possibility that the City Council would vote to approve the city’s last, best and final offer with the union, whether a deal was struck or not.

After a private hour-long discussion between the attorneys representing the two sides and an impromptu closed session of the City Council, the mayor and council members voted unanimously to postpone the vote for two more weeks in the hope that the two sides will reach an agreement.

The city has reached tentative agreements with the other employee unions, but as of Tuesday night, was reporting an impasse with TAPO.

For the last three years the city has sought concessions from the various employee unions as it dealt with the struggling economy and budget constraints. During this time the unions agreed to 5 percent pay reductions.

This year the city came to the negotiating table requesting employees up their Public Employees Retirement System contribution to 14 percent and it was uniformly rejected.

The city came back with a second offer that called for a 9 percent contribution to the retirement plan and a halt to cashing out vacation, sick, and holiday time. It also would require non-essential employees take 56 hours off unpaid during the three days before Thanksgiving and the four days after Christmas. Essential employees would have to take off the same 56 hours, but it could be used anytime by Dec. 31, 2012.

The key sticking point between the city and TAPO is the stipulation over selling back unused vacation, sick and holiday time.

TAPO President Brandon Bertram said the suspension of the cash out policy is unfair to the police officers because their hours are not equitable to the other city employees. For example, Bertram said fire fighters have 72 hours each that in the past have been eligible for cash out, while police officers have 120 hours each, meaning the cash out loss is greater for police officers, Bertram said.

Bertram calculated that the loss of cash out time for police officers equaled an additional 5.76 percent reduction in their paychecks, raising their total loss to14.76 percent.

“It’s a bigger loss for police officers,” Bertram told the council prior to Tuesday night’s vote.

Bertram’s comments were echoed and supported by the dozens of police officers in attendance.

Bertram also stated the city’s stance on cash out time could create a “scheduling nightmare” for the police department in an effort to maintain minimum staffing levels.

Councilmember Amy Bublak, herself a member of the Modesto Police Department, was the first to suggest that granting some additional time might help the two parties reach a deal.

At Mayor John Lazar’s prompting, City Attorney Phaedra Norton and David Garcia, an attorney from Goyette Associates representing the union, met in private to discuss the terms of returning to the bargaining table. Following that the council met briefly in closed session, and afterwards Lazar reported that no action was taken.

The council also put off approving the contracts with the other employee unions for two weeks.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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