Pittsburgh police union leader calls draft arbitration award ‘abysmal’

Pittsburgh policepatch

Pittsburgh police officers would receive annual raises of 1 percent to 2 percent through 2019 but have to contribute more toward their medical benefits under a draft arbitration award the Tribune-Review obtained Tuesday.

Robert Swartzwelder, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, in a letter to about 800 members, called the arbitration decision “abysmal” and vowed to file a court appeal if it becomes official.

At least two on the three-member arbitration panel must sign off on the award to finalize it. The union and city each choose a member. There’s one neutral member.

Swartzwelder and Pittsburgh officials declined to comment on the arbitration award.

The city and union have been battling over a new contract since the previous one expired in December 2014. Union officials opted to have an arbitration panel write a five-year contract after negotiations stalled.

Salaries and benefits for police officers total $73.5 million in 2016, about 14 percent of a $519 million budget.

The panel awarded raises of 1 percent in 2016 and 2 percent each year from 2017-19, noting that officers’ average gross wages were $84,395 in 2014.

Officers would be required to cover 20 percent of their medical benefits premium. Officials could not specify the percentage officers pay now or how much the 20 percent would be. In addition, police officers would lose seven of 10 personal days, under the proposal.

The city would fund post-retirement benefits for officers hired from 2005 through Dec. 31, 2015. The city ended retirement benefits for officers more than 10 years ago because of its growing financial problems.

Pittsburgh would also test a program that allows officers to work 10-hour shifts four days per week. It could become permanent it if it does not increase costs.

Officers will begin working longer shifts this week as the Penguins seek to win one more game in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs against the San Jose Sharks.

Police officers will be required to work 12-hour shifts when the Penguins play Thursday, including members of SWAT, motorcycle, bicycle, bomb squad and special response team units, according to an internal memo issued by Assistant Chief Thomas Stangrecki.

Guy Costa, the city’s operations chief, said Washington Place bordering Consol Energy Center and possibly Fifth Avenue would close during the game to accommodate fans watching on a large TV screen outside the stadium.

The Pittsburgh Public Safety Department is planning a news conference Wednesday afternoon to provide details.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 orbbauder@tribweb.com.