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City, police union reps begin public negotiations

December 17, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown's mayor and City Council began public negotiations with union representatives of the city's police department on Tuesday as the two sides exchanged offers.

Members of the union and other local unions also took the opportunity at Tuesday night's regular council voting session to express their frustration and dissatisfaction with the publication of the city's stance before union leaders were told.

City officials want the union to accept a reduction in the sick leave buy-back program or face not getting a 2.5 percent pay raise.

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The union's counteroffer included a stipulation that only union members with at least 800 sick leave hours could sell their sick leave back to the city. Under that plan, eligible members could sell back up to 40 hours per year.

Patrol Officer Wayne Hose, president of the police union, said currently a member with fewer than 800 hours of sick leave can sell 40 hours a year and a member with more than 800 hours can sell 80 hours of sick leave a year. The union has 77 members who are police officers beneath the rank of sergeant.

The union and city's pay scales varied, with the union seeking greater increases than the city offered to officers with more years of service. That was done to reward senior officers who teach younger officers, said James Bestpitch, the union's chief negotiator.

For example, the city offered to pay an officer beginning the 20th year of service an annual salary of $43,243, including the 2.5 percent pay increase. The union would have that officer earning $47,040.

Where the city was looking for a six-month deal, the union wants a 21/2-year deal. Bestpitch said union members need time to heal, reflect and let the dust settle before jumping back into negotiations after completing the next contract.

The union is looking for a 2.5 percent pay increase on July 1 and another 2.5 percent increase a year later, according to the counteroffer.

The term of the union's contract ended in June 2001, but the city has honored the terms of the original contract since then, said John Budesky, the city's director of administrative services.

The sides have not been able to agree to a wage increase so police union members have not had a pay raise in three years, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

The union asked for each member to receive a $2,000 signing bonus to compensate them for the lack of a pay increase, Bestpitch said. Giving members a signing bonus would not increase the city's payroll because they would not have to make pension contributions for it, he said.

City officials said some of the union's requests may affect other unions because the city has been trying to keep salaries and benefits for the different groups at the same level.

The sides are expected to discuss the issue again Jan. 6.

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