LARGO — When the city and the police union began negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement last summer, Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert kicked the process off with a message that confounded union representative Michael Krohn.
Largo can afford to give raises to its police officers, Schubert told Krohn, executive director of the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association, but city management won't even consider it. Like many other things, Krohn and Schubert don't see eye to eye on this one.
Krohn: "Basically, it was the middle finger to us, after we just helped them out the last year."
Schubert: "When I sit down with unions, I always tell them I'm never going to argue an ability to pay. … If we wanted to be irresponsible and spend … until we're out of money, yeah, we could do that."
It's been almost seven months since that meeting, and the city's three-year collective bargaining agreement with the police union expired Sept. 30. The sides have yet to reach a new deal, though, so now they will turn to the city commissioners to settle it.
Largo's police union rejected the city's last offer in early December, and at one of the next few City Commission meetings, commissioners will schedule a public hearing in which Krohn and Schubert will state their cases. Then commissioners will weigh in on the several items holding up a new agreement, like:
• Personal option days. When Krohn said police helped the city last year, he was referring to some officers agreeing to forego raises in exchange for extra paid time off, up to 96 hours. The police union is not asking for raises in the next agreement, instead asking for another 96 extra paid hours off for each member. The city has offered 24 hours, what it has given to its other employees in lieu of raises. Krohn has come down to 48 hours, but Schubert isn't budging from 24.
• Health insurance. Now, police officers who find their own insurance can opt out of the city's group plan and get $2,600 in income. The city has ended that practice with its other employees, Schubert said, and wants to do so with the police officers.
"We want to keep healthy individuals in the plan for kind of obvious reasons," he said. "They keep the premiums down."
• Wages. Last year, officers who were due raises but had reached the maximum salaries for their pay ranges received the raises as a one-time bonus. Krohn says those officers should continue to get their raises as bonuses. Schubert says, because no pay raises are being offered in a new agreement, no bonuses are owed.
There are other differences, but Krohn said Tuesday if the city had agreed to 96 hours of paid time off, he thinks his union would have ratified the new agreement. He was still annoyed over how Schubert opened negotiations last summer.
"I'm sure if I had a beer with the man, he'd be great company," Krohn said. "But to do business with the man — it's sometimes quite difficult when you walk into a meeting starting with something very negative."
Schubert doesn't think the negotiations have been contentious and said the impasse is the result of officers struggling to come to terms with a new, and worse, financial climate.
"The experience of the union has been whenever they engage in collective bargaining, they receive increased pay and enhanced benefits," he said. "We're now in an era where that's not always possible, and it's difficult for them to adjust to the new reality."
Whatever the City Commission approves as a new agreement will go into effect immediately for 2012. If the union doesn't ratify it as a new three-year agreement, though, Krohn and Schubert will find themselves back at a familiar place next summer — the bargaining table.
Will Hobson can be reached at 727-445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.