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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg City Council, Foster, in unison on union pact



ST. PETERSBURG -- Renegotiating police union contracts are usually acrimonious affairs.

Not so this year, the first with Mayor Bill Foster -- a big supporter of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association -- at the helm.

With little discussion, the City Council unanimously approved the new contract with the union on Thursday.

"Before (under then-Mayor Rick Baker), negotiating contracts was a knock down, drag out fight," said George Lofton, senior v.p. of the PBA. "With Mayor Foster, it's a lot different. Foster is key. He's worked with us rather than worked against us."

The new contract extends same-sex health benefits to officers, but includes no wage increase for officers and technicians. It does, however, give step increases, which are raises for years of service. It also creates a new step pay designation, master officer, and increased how much the city will pay for officers' ballistic vests. And the union can re-open the contract and negotiate raises in years two and three of the contract.

Foster got big support from the PBA during last year's mayor's race. Since becoming mayor in January, he's done much to please the unions. He's given officers more freedom in chasing suspects. He's approved stop sticks, which are tire deflation devices used to end chases. He's approved a broader take home car policy that allows officers to take home cars up to 40 miles outside city limits. Before, officers had to live within the county to take home cars.

Each step of the way, the City Council has endorsed these moves. The love fest continued Thursday.

"This was a campaign promise you kept," Council Vice Chair Herb Polson said to Foster, referring to the contract's extension of domestic benefits. "Kudos to you and your staff."

-- Michael Van Sickler, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 3:42pm]


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