Saying negotiations are at an impasse, city police are hinting they will go to court to get a two-year contract.
At an executive session Dec. 2, the City Council decided to offer police a one-year contract with a 2.5 percent raise and a boost in disability insurance.
Police rejected that and told the city they have to have a two-year contract, said Larry Beck, attorney for the Coeur d’Alene Police Officers’ Association.
“We were informed today that the city won’t do that,” Beck said. “This is important so police can go out and do their job secure that the city won’t come back in six months and take their benefits away.”
Beck was referring to a proposal made by the city last summer to modify vacation and sick leave for city employees. Those proposals were dropped, but the two sides still failed to reach an agreement and the dispute went to a three-person fact-finding commission.
The commission recommended the city offer a two-year contract as well as the pay raise and better disability insurance. The new disability package would pay lost wages after a police officer is off work a month - instead of after two months under the current policy. The disability package also would give police 75 percent of their salary instead of the current 60 percent.
Members of the firefighters and the Lake City Employees Association enjoy the better disability benefits.
The City Council, however, strongly opposes a two-year contract. While City Finance Director John Austin said he prefers longer-term contracts, having a one-year contract this time means the city can deal with all three employee groups at the same time.
“We worked all the way through the process and the council offered the same package accepted by the other employees,” Austin said. “This offers the opportunity to sit down in the spring and bargain with all of the employees.”
Police officers are not mollified. They cannot strike and so are considering asking a judge to enforce the fact-finders’ report as binding, Beck said.
The officers also are considering informational picketing. They will make a decision by early next month, he said.
“The police are surprised that the city will not honor the determination of the fact-finder given that this is the process the city has set forth in its own ordinance,” Beck said. “They see this as a continuing act of bad faith on the part of the city.”
But city ordinance specifically says the council isn’t bound by the fact-finding commission. “It is a recommendation that they take under advisement,” Austin said.
There isn’t “any evidence of bad faith on our side,” he added.
The one-year contract simply is “the council’s current position,” Austin said. If the police would like to come back to the table, the city says it is willing to continue talks.