Commission resolves city, police impasse

LARGO — How much should a police officer be paid, on his day off, to take a 15-minute phone call from a lawyer — $8 or $90?

The question was one of several the City Commission pondered last week as it weighed in on the impasse between city management and the police union. The two sides had been unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement since late last summer and resorted to having the commission settle it Wednesday night.

In front of an audience of mostly police officers, many of them wearing bright yellow Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association T-shirts, commissioners had four major disagreements to resolve.

Here are the key issues, and the commission's decisions:

• Personal option days. These are extra vacation days given to make up for a wage freeze. Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert, the city's chief negotiator, offered 24 hours per officer, which is what other city employees get. Michael Krohn, executive director of the Sun Coast PBA, initially asked for 96 hours, then came down to 48 hours. Schubert didn't budge from 24.

Commissioners voted 7-0 to give officers 32 hours, more than what Schubert offered but still considerably less than where Krohn started.

• Wages. Last year, officers who were due raises but had reached the maximum salaries for their pay ranges received their raises as one-time bonuses. Krohn wanted them to get those bonuses again this year. Schubert argued that would basically be a raise, not a one-time bonus, and the city has a wage freeze in effect.

Commissioners voted 4-3 to not pay bonuses again this year. Commissioners Curtis Holmes, Michael Smith and Robert Murray were the dissenting votes.

"I haven't gotten a raise in five years," Mayor Pat Gerard told the officers. "I know you do a different job than I do. ... But what's happening out there is way different than what we're talking about here."

• Off-duty phone calls. Schubert offered to pay officers their hourly rate for however long the call takes, with a minimum of 15 minutes. A 15-minute phone call, therefore, would cost the city between $8 and $14, depending on the officer's pay rate.

Krohn wanted a three-hour minimum, meaning a 15-minute phone call would cost the city between $90 and $169. He argued that when a public defender calls, an officer needs time to review the case file.

Commissioners agreed that 15 minutes was too short of a minimum, but didn't want to see brief phone calls cost the city hundreds of dollars. They voted 6-1 to give officers a minimum of one hour's pay, with Holmes dissenting. (He wanted to offer 90 minutes.)

• Health insurance. Under the old agreement, Largo gave $2,600 to employees who got their health coverage elsewhere. City management has ended that policy, forcing all employees to accept the city's coverage with a few exceptions (employees on their spouse's plans or with military insurance, for example).

Schubert argued it costs everyone else in the city's plans when younger, healthier officers find coverage elsewhere and take the $2,600 payment. Krohn argued that it was a de facto pay cut in a year when officers weren't requesting wage increases. Commissioners agreed with Schubert by a 5-2 vote. Smith and Holmes voted against.

As the voting wore on and it became clear city management was going to win the major points of the impasse, several police officers shook their heads and walked out.

The agreement went into effect Wednesday, since there was no collective bargaining agreement in place.

Krohn will bring the new agreement back to union members for a full vote and, if approved, the agreement will be binding for the next three years.

If it is rejected, though, the negotiation process will start over again this summer.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727)-445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Commission resolves city, police impasse 03/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 10, 2012 3:31am]

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