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Police, city reach agreement on contracts

POSTED July 29, 2011 6:39 p.m.

Contract negotiations between the city and the Turlock Association of Peace Officers that just a few weeks prior seemed in jeopardy of breaking down, reached a successful conclusion Tuesday night with the City Council ratifying the newly struck deal in a unanimous vote.

It was a significant achievement given that at the last City Council meeting on July 12, City Manager Roy Wasden was recommending the council impose the last, best and final offer because negotiations had reached an impasse.

But after a lengthy discussion between TAPO’s legal representative and City Attorney Phaedra Norton and an impromptu closed session, the City Council voted to extend the negotiations by an additional two weeks — a move that proved to be effective.

“I’m really glad we took a look at it and stepped back and glad that everyone came together,” said Councilmember Amy Bublak, herself a police officer with the Modesto Police Department.

The deal reached by the two sides doesn’t address some of TAPO’s concerns, like funding vacant positions, but does bridge some of the discrepancies present in the last, best and final offer.

“It was the most amicable resolution we could reach under the constraints present,” said TAPO President Brandon Bertram. “Our association is satisfied with our agreement with the city, realizing all employees have to make concessions and cutbacks have to be made.”

The new contract, which lasts through July 15, 2012, follows the course of the other city employee associations, while making a few key concessions.

The contract calls for an increased employee contribution of 9 percent to the Public Employees Retirement System and a provision that the two sides would revisit the health benefit trust contribution and PERS plan in a few months time.

The deal prohibits the practice of cashing out vacation, holiday and sick time — a caveat that had been a point of contention among some TAPO members. At the July 12 meeting a few TAPO members addressed the council about losing the ability to cash-out time, deeming it an unfair practice because the number of hours available to police officers is higher than all the other employee associations — meaning they were losing more.

For a patrol officer the loss of cash-out time equates to a 5.7 percent decrease annually in their pay, giving them a total pay deduction of 14.7 percent, Bertram said.

In past contracts, police officers had been allowed to bank the unused holiday to use at any point in their career, but prohibited them from cashing it out at retirement. In this round of negotiations that option was no longer on the table, Bertram said. Instead the city agreed to let the officers accrue some time, but placed a cap on it. If an officer reaches that cap they have to take some time off before accruing any more time-off hours.

Forcing patrol officers to take their 120 hours of time off in addition to a city-wide mandatory 56 hours of in lieu time could have an adverse affect on public safety given the scheduling masterpiece that will have to be created to grant the time off while ensuring a set level of coverage, Bertram said.

“With these contracts service levels will be diminished,” Bertram said. “The last thing we want as public safety employees is to fail the community.”

As a concession to TAPO, the city agreed to include the provision of binding arbitration for disciplinary matters for the next two years. Previously, arbitration has been only advisory.

“It’s a protection for employees and affords the city an unbiased review of their decision,” Bertram said.

Though not a part of the contract negotiations, TAPO was hoping that the city would agree to not fill vacant positions, but that codicil was never struck.

“TAPO’s concern is that by filling vacant positions in the city throughout this fiscal year, coupled with the potential loss of RDA funds and the state not extending the taxes, which diminishes revenue, and the ever-rising expense of medical coverage costs, will set us on a course for the 2012/13 fiscal year of having an insurmountable deficit,” Bertram said.

In addition to approving the contract with TAPO the City Council ratified contracts with all the other employee associations.

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

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