PHOENIX, AZ – Despite hours of contentious debate and warnings of political repercussions, Phoenix City Council members voted 5-4 on Wednesday to impose a labor contract with pay and benefit cuts on the city’s 2,386 police officers.
Dozens of officers filled the council’s chambers to rail against the contract. The vote highlighted a new level of discord between the city and its largest employee union as well as a bitter split between the unions representing police and firefighters in Phoenix, the nation’s sixth-largest city.
It is the first time in city history that the council has voted to impose a contract on one of the city’s five labor unions. Each of the other four unions with collective-bargaining rights agreed to contracts with cuts to help the city solve a $37.7 million deficit in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Leaders of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association argued that they should be spared a compensation reduction given the dangerous nature of their jobs and a hiring freeze that has strained the force.
An independent fact finder had recommended that the union not take any more cuts and that it should instead receive a 3.6 percent pay raise in the second year of the new contract.
Will Buividas, chief negotiator for the union, blasted city leadership and the firefighters union, claiming that that union has reaped the benefits of its political alliances with certain council members while police have taken more cuts to overtime and staffing levels. Buividas’ presentation included a picture of a few dozen firefighters playing volleyball on duty, drawing jeers from officers in the audience.
“Your actions, or rather inactions, have awakened the sleeping giant,” Buividas said. “No more will these men and women stand by while firefighters cut deals that only benefit them while screwing the cops and every other city employee.”
The Wednesday vote effectively adopted City Manager Ed Zuercher’s proposal to implement 1.6 percent across-the-board employee pay and benefits cuts to save $16.5 million. He had espoused the benefits of “shared sacrifices,” saying the pain of compensation cuts could be eased if all employees did their part to help Phoenix balance its budget without reducing services to residents.
“We’re asking employees to reduce compensation a little to preserve jobs and services,” Zuercher said, adding that the city already pays officers more because of their dangerous work. “Our officers will still be highly compensated compared to other city employees and compared to other police officers in the state, as it should be.”
The council vote was preceded by a flurry of debate. At one point, the council appeared to have enough votes to support a substitute motion by Councilwoman Kate Gallego that would have granted the police union’s request. However, Gallego later clarified she didn’t support the motion but simply wanted everyone’s stance on the issue to be clear, and the deal evaporated to the shocked protests of audience members.
Ultimately, Mayor Greg Stanton, Gallego and council members Thelda Williams, Laura Pastor and Daniel Valenzuela provided the votes to impose a contract. Councilmen Bill Gates, Sal DiCiccio, Jim Waring and Michael Nowakowski voted no.
Despite labeling the contract reductions “pay cuts,” most officers would still receive merit-pay raises or longevity bonuses. The cut would be in the form of a reduced uniform allowance, less deferred compensation and 12 hours of unpaid holiday. The officers would take an additional 0.9 percent cut in the second year of the contract, like other unions.
Because the police union did not accept the city’s final offer, the council had to impose a contract before May 13, the final deadline under the city’s collective-bargaining ordinance.
Valenzuela, a Glendale firefighter, voted with the majority to impose the contract with cuts. He decried the emerging rift between the city’s fire and police unions, suggesting city workers are sharing in the pain and dismissing the volleyball photo as misconstrued. Rather than giving raises, the emphasis should be on creating a plan to hire more officers, Valenzuela said.
“This is not a fire-versus-police showdown,” he lamented. “What we need are more police officers on the street.”
The police union found several unlikely allies on the council dais, including DiCiccio and Waring, previously outspoken opponents of pay raises for unions. They attempted to exempt police from cuts, arguing Phoenix could spare the officers if it cut millions in spending for non-essential items like lobbying, travel and public relations.
DiCiccio said the police union should be treated differently from other employee groups because they’ve faced unique problems since the recession, leading him to change his stance.
Excluding PLEA, the city’s other four unions agreed to contracts with compensation cuts in the upcoming year, though some unions held out until the end. Five unions with collective-bargaining rights represent much of Phoenix’s workforce of nearly 14,000 civil servants.
Fire union President Pete Gorraiz said his 1,512 members don’t like the contract but ultimately backed it to prevent drastic reductions in services to residents. In his draft budget, Zuercher warned that without employee concessions or tax increases, the city would have to close pools, senior centers and other popular programs.
“We weren’t willing to cut everyone else so we could get a raise,” Gorraiz said. “Nobody wants to take cuts, but we understand the fiscal realities.”
The council voted 6-3 to adopt contracts for each of the city’s other labor unions, including a standard 1.6 percent pay and benefit cut next year, followed by a 0.9 percent cut in the second year of the contract.
Councilmen Jim Waring, Bill Gates and DiCiccio voted against all of the contracts.
By approving the other contracts, council members effectively blocked PLEA from getting a better deal. Each of the union’s contracts includes a “me too” clause, stating its members must receive the same raises or cuts as other union. Giving the police a raise, would likely have required the city to give raises across-the-board or impose different contracts on every union.
Phoenix city unions
Here’s a look at the five labor groups the city is negotiating new contracts with:
Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 777 represents 942 landscapers, solid-waste equipment operators and street-maintenance workers.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2384 represents 1,629 mechanics, electricians, skilled workers, aviation staff and water-services employees.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2960 represents 2,196 office employees, including secretaries, clerks, 9-1-1 operators, administrative aides and building inspectors.
Phoenix Law Enforcement Association represents 2,386 sworn police officers.
United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association represents 1,512 firefighters.
From The Arizona Republic