Cincinnati Police trade wage freeze for off-duty work fee

CINCINNATI, OH &#8211 Cincinnati police officers agreed to a wage freeze through May 2014 in a deal that would kill a controversial fee for off-duty work.

The contract extension, which must be approved by City Council, also would make officers pay for their union president’s full salary. Now, that cost is divided by the union and city.

All unions should pay their presidents, City Manager Milton Dohoney says, to help avoid another situation like the one brought to light in the wake of the indictment of former CODE President Diana Frey on embezzlement charges. She was paid by the city to work at the Metropolitan Sewer District, but spent virtually all her time for at least several years on union work.

The current contract expires in December. The extension would add 17 months to the officers’ wage freeze, as first reported Monday on the Politics Extra blog at Cincinnati.com. The union’s last wage increase came in 2008, though some officers still get built-in step pay increases depending on their seniority.

Dohoney said in his budget message for this year that he expected unions to start asking again soon for wage increases. But Kathy Harrell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said her members understand that if contract talks stalled and went to arbitration, the city would cite the past two or three years’ deficits as evidence of its inability to pay officers more.

Rather than take that chance, she said, the union decided to extend the wage freeze and take the cancellation of the $4.90/hour detail fee in exchange. Officers argued that the fee unfairly charged them for work done on their own time, but city officials said the money was needed to help offset the cost of overseeing the thousands of details done by officers every year.

The city was on pace to take in about $1 million from the fee the first year, ending this summer, according to an Enquirer analysis. Officers worked an average of at least 4,000 details a month last summer and fall, according to city documents. More than 700 officers, of the total force of about 1,050, worked details.

How much the city would save from 17 additional months of frozen police wages wasn’t available Monday. But the police department takes up about 40 percent of the city’s operating budget.

“We understand the city has had financial trouble,” Harrell said. This way, when contract talks start in late 2013 or early 2014, “the city should be in better shape with The Banks and the casino open.”

The proposed agreement does specify that the city can charge a fee to businesses who want to hire off-duty officers and that the police chief has sole discretion in establishing the rate charged to those businesses. Officers had balked at that, fearing they would lose details because businesses wouldn’t want to pay.

City officials have not yet decided if they will charge businesses an additional fee to hire off-duty police officers, said Meg Olberding, spokeswoman for Dohoney. The businesses already pay the $31/hour most officers earn at off-duty jobs.

The union approved the deal Feb. 17. It likely will be introduced to council Wednesday, Harrell said, discussed in budget committee and passed next week.

“Everyone gets something that they’ve been wanting,” Olberding said. “They wanted that detail fee gone and the city gets a stable wage for (17) months.”

Harrell said she’d rather have her members – not taxpayers – pay her salary. They paid it in the past, but the system was changed a couple of years ago to about a 50-50 split for consistency with other city unions. She earned just over $68,100 in base pay last year.

The city’s practice of paying some or all of labor leaders’ salaries dates back to the 1960s in some cases. Some city leaders were unaware of it until Frey’s embezzlement of $757,009 from Cincinnati Organized and Dedicated Employees brought it to light. Frey pleaded guilty in September and awaits sentencing.

From Cincinnati.com.