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City union gives up retirement match to avoid layoffs

Thu., Aug. 13, 2009, 12:50 p.m.

One of Spokane’s smallest unions has agreed to concessions next year to avoid layoffs, making them the first city bargaining group to do so.

The Spokane Police Lieutenants and Captains Association last week agreed to give up a portion of its retirement plan in 2010. Their decision likely will save at least one police officer’s job.

“If we can keep every one of these guys from being laid off, it’s a benefit to them and the city,” said Capt. Steve Braun, president of the association.

Mayor Mary Verner has told unions that half of the city’s expected $7 million deficit will be made up through concessions or employee layoffs. Each union was given an amount it would have to give up in order to avoid layoffs. Her deadline to reach agreement is Aug. 28.

Higher ranked police officers like lieutenants and captains likely wouldn’t lose jobs in the event of cuts because its members have seniority.

City Administrator Ted Danek said all city unions are working with administrators to meet goals.

“They’re all saying, ‘We’ll work with you,’” Danek said. “I am optimistic that that goal is in sight.”

Most city employees have pensions and deferred compensation plans with a city match. The city’s deferred compensation plans act similar to 401(k)s, which are popular retirement plans in the private sector. Employees invest part of their pay into a fund and the city matches the employee’s amount up to 3 percent for captains and 3.5 percent for lieutenants.

To meet Verner’s goal set for the captains and lieutenants, the association agreed to give up the city’s match. Salaries, pensions and other benefits will not be affected by the agreement.

Human Resources Director Dave Chandler said the association was asked to concede $62,000 from what its contract otherwise would have cost the city in 2010. Because five non-union administrative employees’ compensation, including Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s, is tied to the contract, the association’s decision will save the city about $85,000, Braun said.

Braun said a majority of association members voted to accept the concession, though the tally was not unanimous. He praised Verner’s strategy for dealing with the city’s deficit.

“I really appreciate what she’s done and how she’s really handled this economic downturn,” Braun said.

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