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City withdraws offer of back pay for cops

July 17, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Because the union representing about 70 Hagerstown patrol officers rejected the city's latest contract offer, the officers will not get retroactive pay for the two years they have worked under terms of an expired contract, Hagerstown officials said Wednesday.

"As stated previously, all currently offered compensation is hereby removed from the negotiation table and we will direct staff to begin negotiating a contract for 2004-2005 and beyond," the Hagerstown City Council and mayor said in a letter to Hagerstown Police Officer Wayne Hose, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3373.

The council authorized sending the letter during an executive session at Tuesday's council meeting, John Budesky, city director of administrative services and lead negotiator, said Wednesday.

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Hose said as far as he is concerned, negotiations have not ended. He said that if the city has decided to end negotiations he thinks that will hurt the police department's hiring process.

Budesky said the city's starting pay for a new officer, currently at $29,061, will be less attractive to potential employees than the $30,663 it would have been had the contract been accepted.

Budesky would not comment on whether hiring has been affected by the stalled negotiations, which might not resume until around January 2004.

The City Council, in a June 10 letter sent to Hose, said it would terminate negotiations if the union did not respond to the latest city contract offer by a June 25 deadline.

The average annual salary for patrol officers would have increased from $37,640 to $39,777 if the union had accepted the contract, the city letter said.

In the last 12 months, the city has signed contracts with three of the four union groups that represent city employees but a stated management goal of reaching accord with the patrol officers by December 2002 was not met.

While benefits, seniority and other employment issues remain covered by the old contract, the unionized police officers will not receive annual cost-of-living pay increases until a new contract is settled.

Under the city's last offer, the police would have gotten the same cost-of-living increases as the other unions, but only if they give up health-care negotiating rights as the other unions did, the union's chief negotiator, James Bestpitch, has said.

Bestpitch could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

When the city reached agreement with the other three unions - fire, water and sewer, and light department workers - the union employees received 2.5 percent cost-of-living increases that covered the past fiscal year. A 3.1 percent increase went into effect this month for the coming year.

Union and city officials said the police situation is complicated by an arbitration agreement earlier this year in which the arbitrator decided the city had broken its contracts by raising health care premiums without raising pay. As a result, the city compensated workers, but said the payments could jeopardize cost-of-living increases, Mayor William Breichner said.

Breichner said there was only so much money for the combined cost-of-living increases and health care arbitration but Bestpitch said the police union is entitled to the health care arbitration as well as the pay raises.

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