NORTH LIBERTY– What is the price of safety?
In North Liberty, it’s costing taxpayers about $1.48 million per year. On July 10, the North Liberty City council approved a collective bargaining agreement for the North Liberty Police Department’s (NLPD) 2012-2013 employee contract, which became effective last month.
The department currently has 15 full-time police officers (including its chief, assistant chief and one investigator), as well as two part-time officers.
The NLPD unionized in 2009 under the collective bargaining unit Public Professional and Maintenance Employees (PPME), Local 2003. The department completed its second round of arbitration this year, taking it to the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) because the officers were at an impasse with the city on seven points of their contract. When no resolution could be found, the conflict was passed on to arbitrator Curtiss Behrens of Evanston, Ill., who summated his opinion in March.
In his report, Behrens awarded five of the seven impasse items to the City of North Liberty, including its wage offer.
The police union’s initial arbitration in 2010 awarded the officers an 11.8 percent increase in wages, based on slotting officers into a salary schedule and giving them a step wage increase on the anniversary of the date of hire. This year, the union proposed to re-categorize its officers into a salary schedule based on years of seniority, which would have resulted in some officers receiving additional step increases and, with the accompanying increases in FICA, IPERS and insurance, a 12.08 percent wage increase. The city’s proposal of leaving the officers in their initial slots and giving them an increase on each anniversary would result in an increase of 5.15 percent.
The city won that point.
“Two double-digit increases, back to back, is not the more reasonable offer on this record,” Behrens wrote.
The other points of impasse were the officers’ hours of work, overtime pay, shift differential, holiday pay, leaves of absence and job classifications. Regarding overtime pay, the union was asking for officers to have the option of receiving a cash payment in lieu of taking earned compensatory time. Last year, arbitrator Lon Moeller awarded the department that request, but since then, the city’s auditor indicated it could become problematic if an officer earned comp time during one fiscal year but elected to be paid for it in the next fiscal year. This year, Behrens said the auditor’s concerns justified removal of the provision.
The union also requested for officers to be able to create a holiday bank to be credited within 10 days of the beginning of each fiscal year, but Behrens said this was a point that required further bargaining between the parties, as there was no comparability support to award the request.
Of the seven points of impasse, the union was granted two points; the opportunity to change the language in the contract regarding job classification, and a proposed change in the language regarding the department’s shift-differential, which officially created three 12-hour work shifts in the contract.
As of July 1, the starting wage for North Liberty police officers is $20.09, or about $41,787 per year. The step system in the salary schedule offers a four percent increase in hourly wages each year, up to eight years of service. A police department employee classified as investigator receives 50 cents per hour more.
According to the contract submitted in Behren’s report, benefits include eight hours of paid sick leave per month; three paid personal days each year; 10 paid holidays; one week’s vacation after the first six months of employ, two weeks after the first year, three weeks after five years, four weeks after 10 years and five weeks of paid vacation after 15 years of service; health insurance, with the employee paying 15 percent of the premiums and the city reimbursing up to $2,000 per year for employees’ deductibles, co-pays and prescription drugs; 100 percent preventive dental coverage, including $1,000 of orthodontic care; vision care; and long-term disability and life insurance plans. All employees are allowed to participate in the city’s flexible benefits plan, which allows them to pay for health and dependent care from pre-tax dollars.