September 24, 2010 in City

Guild, city of Spokane spar over layoffs

Police union rejects benefit changes, threatens legal action
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane Police Guild leaders this week sent a strong message to Mayor Mary Verner: We dare you.

In a letter received by Verner on Thursday, Guild President Ernie Wuthrich warned that if any guild members are laid off, the union will challenge those job losses with the state Public Employment Relations Commission.

The news came the same day Verner accused the guild leaders of dishonesty after they distributed a list of salaries to its membership showing raises received by more than 70 city employees from 2008 to 2010.

Verner and other administrators said many increases shown in the list were wrong or out of context.

For instance, the list shows that Internal Auditor Rick Romero received a 53 percent pay boost from 2008 and 2009. That number isn’t surprising given that Romero wasn’t hired until well into 2008.

Verner said the list was aimed at causing strife among city workers.

“It’s deception, and it doesn’t solve the budget problem,” Verner said.

City officials said most salaries in the list are based on what is called for in union contracts.

Attempts to reach Wuthrich on Thursday were unsuccessful. Verner said she talked with Wuthrich about the release of the salary data.

“I’m not going to tell you what I told him,” Verner said. “It was not a pleasant conversation.”

The city is preparing to notify 120 city workers next week that they will lose their jobs or be demoted at the end of the year.

This month, Verner told employees that she could avoid most layoffs if workers agreed to give up their 2011 pay raise and cover a higher amount of their medical benefits.

Verner has frozen all salaries of nonunion workers for 2011. This year most nonunion workers received raises based on what unions won in contract negotiations.

“Facts not in context do not lead to truth,” said police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, when asked about the guild’s salary list. “We say it all the time in police work, so it should be true in this situation, as well.”

Several people on the list, however, did get pay raises above what was called for in union contracts. City spokeswoman Marlene Feist, for example, got a raise of 17 percent to more than $86,000 this year after “a salary survey” was completed by the human resources department. Some surveys were completed as a result of union contracts.

City Administrator Ted Danek said salary surveys are sometimes completed to make sure pay is in line with people doing similar jobs. Verner said there will be no raises next year based on salary surveys.

Danek said the city will continue working toward concessions with the guild. But the union letter indicates it will be a hard sell at best for the guild. It formally rejected the city’s proposal for medical benefit concessions – though it said the union will continue to discuss “potential medical plan designs.”

Wuthrich’s letter said laying off officers violates the city’s contract with the guild.

“The act of laying off any of our members prior to the city dispatching its duty to bargain that change in working conditions will result in an immediate filing of a grievance and/or the petitioning of PERC concerning an Unfair Labor Practice,” Wuthrich wrote. “The guild will seek whatever legal remedies possible.”

First-year Spokane police officers earn about $43,000 annually. With 10 years of experience, they make almost $70,000. Detectives start at about $74,000 and earn more than $77,000 with 10 years of experience.

This year guild members didn’t get a raise. Instead, they were given an extra 52 hours of vacation. Last year, the guild was the only city union that didn’t make the full amount concessions requested by Verner.

Kirkpatrick said 45 positions will be lost in the Police Department if concessions aren’t made. About 35 of those are commissioned officers.

“I would hope that the (guild) leadership would seek the opinion of the membership,” Kirkpatrick said. “There are a lot of people within the department who want to do anything they can to save everybody’s job.”


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