Tacoma police union agrees to skip colas to prevent job cuts

TACOMA, WA &#8211 Tacoma’s police union has agreed to delay about $1.2 million in cost-of-living pay raises and to waive other expected payments in 2012 to help spare 54 officers from layoffs.

But if the city ends up laying off officers this year, the union’s concessions would be pulled off the table, and the city would become responsible for paying more than 330 officers the deferred raises immediately.

These and other details of the union’s proposed budget concessions were released in city documents Friday, as Tacoma’s City Council prepares to formally consider a new three-year contract with the rank-and-file officers union Tuesday.

Already, one council member said he isn’t sure the conditions attached to the proposed concessions are acceptable, given the city’s budget crisis.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to approve that,” Councilman Ryan Mello said. “I feel uncomfortable being binded by an agreement like this given our current situation.”

Tacoma’s police union president said his membership already has gone beyond what the city has asked of it.

“We’re willing to make these concessions, but we don’t want (the city) coming back and saying, ‘Hey, we need more,’?” Terry Krause said Friday. “If they do that, they need to start looking somewhere else.”

The proposed new contract, which would run through 2014, stipulates to a 3.6 percent general wage increase for all of the union’s officers as of Jan. 1, 2012.

It also provides for two different pay raises in each of the next two years – one to be determined based on annual cost-of-living data, the other based on “market rate” wages paid by comparable departments.

The union’s budget concessions are spelled out separately from the tentative employment contract in a memorandum of agreement, in which officers agree to put off the 3.6 percent raise until Dec. 31 and make other concessions.

A fiscal note adds that the union also agrees to waive claim to 11 months of 1 percent retroactive payment from 2010. Officers also would give up any unused city matches to their deferred compensation accounts in 2011 and 2012.

Interim City Manager Rey Arellano has authority to approve the concessions agreement, while the council has authority over the employment contract. But at least some of the concession language is included in the contract resolution before the council, which appears to give council members some say.

While the concessions don’t involve cutting existing wages, Krause noted that the union’s deferred pay raises amount to about $5,000 an officer on average.

“It’s easy to spin this in a negative way – that it’s not money coming out of our pockets,” he added. “But this is money that all of us have been planning for.

“I need to put a new roof on my house, and I ain’t going to do that because I ain’t getting the $5,000 that was coming to me this year,” he said. “I’ve got to find that money somewhere else.”

When added up, the concessions total about $1.5 million in pay raises and other benefits – “a pretty big chunk of change coming out of just 330 guys,” Krause added.

By the union’s calculations, the concessions combined with savings proposed by police administrators and the council’s new revenue-generating proposals total about $5.4 million – enough to spare 54 police jobs.

Whether the council agrees with the union’s math remains to be seen.

“We can debate about it, but I would say this is an honest effort to get us to the first phase of budget reductions,” Councilman Jake Fey said Friday.

“But we’re not done,” Fey added. “We’ve got another round of conversations to have with police.”

The latest budget forecast puts Tacoma’s budget gap at more than $32 million – higher than the city’s initial projection for a $31 million shortfall. Amid negotiations with police and fire unions, the city agreed in December to postpone proposed layoffs to about 100 public safety jobs.

The city has moved ahead with layoffs, retirements, demotions and other actions to more than 60 non-public safety employees.

All layoffs proposed so far came under a first round of cuts targeting about $22 million.

Now, with the latest projections showing the city must still make at least $8 million more in cuts, city officials have said it’s almost certain more layoffs will be needed. Last month, Arellano said that if a second round of layoffs was necessary, police and fire employees would be targeted.

The police union believes the city has other resources to turn to should it need to make further budget cuts, Krause noted.

“But if we need more savings from the Police Department, and they’re not willing to budge, what do we do then?” Mello said. “They’ve got to be willing to meet us halfway in the event we need to make more cuts.”

From The News Tribune.