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City, Police Guild still in talks

Wed., Oct. 21, 2009

Union among last to concede cuts

Spokane Police Guild members say they remain open to contract concessions to help the city balance its 2010 budget.

“We’re still in negotiations,” said guild President Ernie Wuthrich, responding to doubts expressed last week by Mayor Mary Verner that enough progress was being made to avoid police layoffs next year. “I’m optimistic that if the city’s reasonable, they can expect us to be reasonable,” he said.

Verner has said time is running out to negotiate concessions that will save 22 police officer jobs before she presents her budget to the City Council next month. Earlier this year, Verner told unions that she hoped contract concessions would save half of the forecasted $7?million deficit.

The guild and Local 270 of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees are the last two unions without an agreement with the city. But progress has been made with Local 270, the city’s largest union. The two sides announced late Tuesday that a “tentative agreement” had been reached but said details would not be released until the union’s membership votes on the deal.

The police guild is negotiating a new contract that starts Jan. 1. This year, guild members received pay raises of 4 percent in January and 1 percent in July. The increases represent about $1 million a year.

The city gave the guild a concession target of $1.1 million for 2010. Verner and council members have said what isn’t earned through concessions likely would come in job losses. Because of attrition and job freezes, only a couple of officers likely would be laid off, officials say.

Wuthrich, a detective on the force, noted that the guild earlier this year agreed to change from 11-hour to a 10-hour shifts to help save the city overtime costs. In an address to City Council earlier this month, Verner credited the change with saving the city $485,000 this year.

The city’s agreement with the Spokane Fire Fighters Union to avoid job losses is an early retirement program that will pay some retirees up to $500 a month for up to eight years to help cover medical expenses.

Wuthrich said he agreed that the fire deal, expected to save the city $700,000 in 2010, should be counted by the city as savings that will preserve firefighter jobs, but added: “That was not a concession. It was a benefit package.”

The guild has argued that police overtime changes should be considered a concession and counted to help reduce police job losses.

“Our people actually gave up something,” he said. “There (were) members on our department that were making $20,000 to $30,000 a year extra in overtime,” Wuthrich said. “That’s gone now. They gave it up because they thought that, ‘You know what? It’s more important to me that the city (doesn’t) go broke.’?”

But Verner said the change prevented layoffs in 2009.

“I consider (the shift changes) to be cooperation by the Police Guild to fix a problem within the year,” she said. “It doesn’t give me anything I can actually use within my 2010 budget.”

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