The City Council is considering the repeal of an ordinance allowing police and other city employees to negotiate wages and benefits.
Repealing the ordinance would end collective bargaining between the city and the Coeur d’Alene Police Officers Association and the Lake City Employees Association. Firefighters, whose rights to negotiate with the city are protected by state law, would not be affected.
City officials said Thursday abolishing the ordinance will do away with “non-productive” bargaining sessions. Representatives of both unions questioned the timing and intentions of the review.
Negotiations between the city and the police association started last spring and still are at an impasse. The Lake City association members, currently working under a contract that expires later this year, can start negotiating a new deal this week.
“If this is repealed, we have no ground to stand on to negotiate our wages or our benefits,” said Dan Dixon, police association president. “Employees would be helpless.”
City officials insist that ongoing and anticipated negotiations had nothing to do with their request that the ordinance be reviewed. Ordinances are evaluated regularly, officials said.
Concerns over the “amount of public resources allocated to the (bargaining) process” prompted the review of the ordinance, Mayor Steve Judy wrote in a Thursday memo to the presidents of the two affected unions. Judy was out of the office Thursday afternoon and not available for comment.
City Council President Nancy Sue Wallace said the review is an attempt to streamline the process of setting wages and benefits and make government more cohesive. Eliminating the ordinance, enacted in 1982, would cut the number of unions the city must negotiate with from three to one.
“Sometimes going into these bargaining processes is non-productive,” Wallace said. “We only have so much money to spend.”
Allocations for wages and benefits are budgeted in advance of contract negotiates, Wallace said. Those figures are available for public inspection.
Repealing the collective bargaining ordinance would make the process of setting wages and benefits more efficient, Wallace said. The council has been considering a review of the collective bargaining ordinance for several months, she said.
“The council has not made up their mind as to whether they’re going to repeal it or not,” Wallace said. “We’re just researching it.”
The General Services Committee will discuss the proposal during a meeting Monday at 4 p.m. in the city council chambers. The committee will then forward its recommendation to the council for consideration at is April 21 meeting, Wallace said.
The time, costs and energy expended during the bargaining process will be among the factors considered, according to a Wednesday press release from the mayor’s office.
“Repealing of this ordinance is not intended in any way to hurt the employees,” Wallace said. “We still expect to have input from the city’s employees.”
If the city council votes to repeal the ordinance it could be taken off the books by early May.
Should that happen, Dixon predicted the police department would lose several veteran officers. Less experienced officers will use the department to hone their skills and quickly move on, the detective said.
Lake City association president Paula Payne said she also believes collective bargaining is valuable. Without a union, Payne said Lake City members - which include employees from the public works, planning, finance and parks and recreation departments - are concerned they could be dismissed without cause.
“This ordinance and our contract gives us a sense of security that we have a voice with the city,” Payne said.
Wallace said city officials have always offered competitive wage and benefit rates to its employees. That will not change with or without a collective bargaining agreement, she said.
“I’m hoping they have some faith in us that we aren’t the big, bad ogres,” Wallace said. “We aren’t.”
Members of both unions plan to attend Monday’s meeting en masse to oppose repealing the ordinance.
“I want to urge the city council not to vote for the repeal of this ordinance,” Dixon said. “It provides a lot to their employees. They can control somewhat their own destiny. They feel wanted.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MEETING The General Services Committee will discuss the proposal during a meeting Monday at 4 p.m. in the city council chambers. The full council will consider the issue April 21.