MERIDEN — Details of a contract covering city police officers will be decided by an arbitration panel. The contract was scheduled to take effect last July, but has been delayed for a year by negotiations between the city and police union. Unable to come to an agreement, both sides opted for binding arbitration.
Detective John Williams, president of the city’s police union, said a decision from a three-person arbitration panel isn’t likely until September. The contract would cover the city’s force of about 122 police officers from July 1, 2014, until June 30, 2017. It was supposed to take effect last July when the previous contract expired.
“The main crux of arbitration was health care and wages,” Williams said.
Both sides were reasonable during negotiations, according to Personnel Director Caroline Beitman. “We simply could not agree,” she said.
The city is asking the union to agree to new health care language and “modest wage increases,” she said.
The city offered the union a 1.75 percent pay increase in 2014-15, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2015, according to documents provided by City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior detailing the last best offers from both sides. Police requested a 2.5 percent increase in 2014-15, retroactive to July 1, 2014.
In 2015-16, the city offered a 2 percent pay increase effective on the date of the arbitration decision, while police asked for a 2.75 percent increase retroactive to July 1, 2015. Police asked for a 3 percent increase in 2016-17, but the city only offered 2.25 percent.
While police officers often make more money than the average citizen, most of the pay comes through overtime, Williams noted, meaning the officer is working more than 40 hours a week.
“Some officers make huge amounts of money,” Williams said. “It’s because they practically live at the police department and see their families when they retire. People don’t seem to understand that officers work 20 to 40 hours a week overtime on top of their 40 hours of work. What kind of family life is that?”
The union already made concessions in its previous contract, Williams said. During the first year of the previous contract, wages weren’t increased. The union took increases of 1.75 percent and 2 percent in the second and third year of the contract, he said, yet health care costs also grew. Also, the union gave up pensions for new members, instead going to a 401(k) hybrid pension plan.
“Pensions of the old days are out,” Williams said. “We gave this to the city last contract because the world is changing; unions and pensions are becoming a thing of the past and we wanted to work with the taxpayer and the city to help the city’s coffers.”
But police are blamed daily for the world’s issues, he said. “This is why we are at contract negotiation. No other workforce or group of people has to go through this day in and day out. We as the police do and unfortunately the management of the city of Meriden does not choose to recognize this.”
Other police departments in Connecticut pay more and still offer pensions, which is an issue for recruitment in Meriden, Williams said.
Several months ago, Meriden police offered an officer job to a woman who recently graduated from college. She accepted the job, but the next day she interviewed with the Southington Police Department, according to Williams. In Southington, she was told she would be paid more and that she would receive a pension, he said.
“Guess what? She quit Meriden that day and now works in Southington,” Williams said. “It’s hard to hire new officers, including minority members of the community, when others pay better than we do and they go there.”
This was brought up to city officials during negotiations, but the city “did not want to hear it,” he said. “So hopefully we will do well in arbitration and see what happens.”
There were several other disagreements that will be decided by the arbitration panel, according to documents provided by Kendzior. The city wants police to remain on a bi-weekly pay schedule, while the union is requesting weekly pay. In addition, the union is asking that officers have the ability to opt out of the city’s health care plan annually, around July 1, and that those who opt out be paid a $2,500 annual stipend. But the city wants “no such language” in the contract, according to documents provided by Kendzior.
Another disagreement includes disability pay. The union is asking that officers diagnosed with a heart attack or hypertension while employed receive full disability pay. But the city doesn’t support the measure, again writing “no such language” in its last best offer. The city agrees to pay workers’ compensation benefits for up to 60 days while claims are heard by the state Workers’ Compensation Commission, but the union is requesting benefits until a decision is rendered by the commission. Among other issues, the city also wants the union to pay increased health care costs.