Police Union Tangles With City Of Saginaw In Dispute Over Coronavirus Safety Requests

SAGINAW, MI — The city of Saginaw and the union representing officers with the Saginaw Police Department are in a dispute over safety issues and compensation related to coronavirus.

So far, three members of the department – two detectives and a clerk – have tested positive for COVID-19 and one of the detectives remains hospitalized.

The police union has asked the city to provide laptops to detectives so they can work remotely, to change in how work shifts are scheduled and to provide additional compensation for officers.

The city has denied the requests, arguing it cannot afford the laptops, the shift changes are unwarranted and officers are getting additional paid time off as compensation. Additionally, the city said it has taken action to protect the health of police staff.

The dispute became public after the city on April 29 issued a press release to address “unfounded assertions and statements” by the police union.

James Tignanelli, president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan, which represents about 50 officers in Saginaw, said the requests by the union are reasonable.

“We’re trying to do the right thing here. This was not intended to be confrontational… These guys are human beings and the job’s tough enough,” Tignanelli said.

The union feels the changes it asked for will help prepare the department for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Detective Sgt. Matthew Gerow said one of the department’s COVID-19 positive detectives has returned to work and one is still hospitalized. On Monday, May 4, a civilian employee who resides in Bay City was diagnosed despite showing no symptoms and is now quarantined. The department is looking into if any other staff could have been exposed, but no one else has been quarantined, Gerow said.

Officer safety is pressing during the pandemic, particularly in light of the diagnoses, Tignanelli said.

“There’s a lot of anxiety,” Tignanelli said. “If somebody at the next desk was seriously ill with the virus, you can’t help but think about it.”

Back and forth

The Saginaw Police Officer’s Association board attended a conference call with Tignanelli, Saginaw Police Chief Robert Ruth and others on April 17, to discuss a letter the union sent to Ruth, documents show. A written response from Ruth and city officials sent after the call outlines the union’s requests. Tignanelli provided the written response and the follow-up from the union to MLive.

The union’s requests were for:

Altered work schedules to limit department staff exposure.

Laptops in detectives’ vehicles to perform work they’d otherwise need to do at the station.

Hazard pay to compensate for the “burdens and stresses” that come with working during the pandemic.

Detectives can investigate dozens of cases at a time and must return to the station to type up their reports, Tignanelli said. Having work laptops in their cars, similar to how patrol vehicles are outfitted, would would allow them to complete paperwork in the field and limit physical contact with others, he said.

The request for laptops was denied, with the city arguing there is “no evidence” working remotely instead of at the station is more efficient. In its response, the city said those concerned about social distancing are offered alternate work places, such as currently vacant city offices. The city has also provided personal protective equipment to staff, regularly sanitizes its workplace and performs daily wellness checks on officers, according to the response.

Departments across the state, including Saginaw County and Township police, have moved to a seven days on, seven days off work schedule, Tignanelli said. The intention is to limit exposure to employees and prevent an outbreak in the department from spreading beyond a shift. The union asked the city of Saginaw to consider doing the same.

The city stated Ruth reviewed plans for schedule changes and determined officer fatigue from working seven straight 12-hour shifts could be a safety concern for the officers and citizens.

The city’s response also disputes that the proposed schedule would create any less exposure and argues that what works for one department doesn’t work for all of them.

In response to a request for hazard pay, the city said an extra 40 hours of paid time off is being given to city employees and the ability to earn up to 80 extra hours through working regular shifts.

The city’s response was discouraging, Tignanelli said, leading to a second letter in which the union disputes the city’s arguments on the work schedule and laptop requests. The union says its argument for laptops was misrepresented.

The city’s press release, issued publicly to address “unfounded assertions and statements” made by members of the union, mostly restates the arguments the city made in the conference call response.

“As Chief, I have to make very tough decisions that are not popular with everyone,” Ruth states in the release. He could not be reached for additional comment.

The department is now in the same position it was before the discussions began in April, Tignanelli said.

“We spent literally weeks trying to convince him and we’ve lost a lot of time here,” Tignanelli said.

The dispute comes as the union is bargaining for a new contract for the officers, but the disagreement is not related to contract negotiations, Tignanelli said.

“We’ve been bargaining a contract that expired in the middle of last year, obviously we didn’t know anything about safety concerns that were going to occur in the middle of March 2020,” Tignanelli said.

From Michigan Live