ST. LOUIS, MO – The city is handcuffing efforts to negotiate pay raises for police because of an outdated city charter provision that requires wage parity with firefighters, according to a lawsuit filed by the officers’ union Wednesday in St. Louis Circuit Court.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association, which represents the majority of the officers, asks that a judge declare invalid a part of the charter requiring that officers and firefighters earn comparable wages.
The union says the pay-parity law became obsolete when City Hall took over control of the police department from a state-appointed board in 2013.
“Under the city’s interpretation (of the charter), they can give firefighters a raise without giving the cops a raise, but the opposite isn’t true,” said Jeff Roorda, business manager for the association. “That puts us in a terribly disadvantageous bargaining position.”
Roorda stressed that the lawsuit was not against firefighters.
Michael Garvin, the city counselor, and Maggie Crane, press secretary for Mayor Francis Slay, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The union recently began negotiating a replacement for a three-year contract that expires at the end of June, Roorda said.
The current contract included up to $2,000 in salary increases and bonuses in the first year and another $2,000 bump in salary and bonus pay in the second year. It was the first agreement since 2012, when Missouri voters approved a shift to city control from a board appointed by governors since 1861.
The suit claims city representatives “repeatedly” told the union that “but for parity,” it could offer higher salaries. That “interferes” with the union’s “constitutionally protected right of collective bargaining,” the suit says.
Union officials have complained for years that city officers earn less than those in other St. Louis-area departments, resulting in an perpetual exodus of personnel whose training was provided with city tax dollars.
“We waste hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year training guys because of our officers moving on to other departments,” Roorda complained. “If we were just able to retain the officers we’re losing, we’d be able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”
On June 1, Police Chief Sam Dotson told the aldermanic finance committee that the department was 117 officers short of its authorized strength of 1,300. Today, the roster remains just under 1,200, and is struggling to keep pace with attrition, Roorda said.
“We can’t even meet authorized strength because we don’t pay enough,” he said.