LB Police Officers Reject Mgmt's Latest Contract Offer; POA President Says If Council Doesn't Improve Offer It Will Demolish LBPD Over Time; Vows To Hold Councilmembers Accountable
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(June 8, 2005) -- With a resounding 97% margin of "no" votes from LB cops, the LB Police Officers Association has rejected city management's latest contract offer (16% raise over five years, more costs for medical coverage and pensions, longer period to reach retirement for new hires.)
At a late afternoon news conference outside City Hall on June 7, LB Police Officers Association President Steve James called the vote "not just a message [but] a mandate" and warned that management's pay and benefits offer would cause officers to leave and send new hires elsewhere:
"This City Council has started us down a road that's going to demolish our police department. If they don't stop us from going down that road, I will be here in two, three or four years to say 'I told you so.' This Council will not be allowed to say it didn't know this was happening. I will not allow that," James said.
Responding to a request from LBReport.com for comment from city management, Kevin Boylan, the City of LB's Director of Human Resources told us:
"The city's position is that we are interested in trying to reach agreement with the Police Officers Association. We are in still in bargaining. We are prepared to go back to the table and talk about the issues."
Among those attending the press event and available to us for comment were Mayoral candidate Randal Hernandez, 3d district Council candidate Gary DeLong, former Mayoral candidate Norm Ryan and LB civic/political consultant Mike Murchison. 9th district Council incumbent Val Lerch also attended and observed the event. Some excerpts of comments we received:
Mr. Hernandez: This is not simply a contract negotiation in my mind, this is about the future of the city and our ability to retain the officers we have and to recruit new officers. It's going to be critical. Public safety is the number one priority in this city. We need to be able to do the best we can to pay these officers who do a great job a fair and competitive wage and we need to be planning for how we're going to finance the next wage of officers that we need to bring into this city. So it means making hard decisions, hard choices, and I think the community is ready to assist in making some of those hard choices, but we need to get this contract done.
LBReport.com: What would Mayor Hernandez do right now?
Mr. Hernandez: One of things I would do is bring the different players together, whether it be the police unions, the other unions together and say we've got a common issue here and we need to find some solutions to this and we're not going to do it by playing one union against the other. It's about all of us sitting down and figuring out what's the best path to take in order to provide the resources we need for our police department.
LBReport.com: You said a "long term" solution for that. Does that mean the "t" word taxes?
Mr. Hernandez: I think any tax increase should be a last resort, not a first reaction. As I've said over and over again, I think one of the key things we need to do is make sure we are squeezing every dollar possible out of the city budget right now to make it happen. And again, it's going to mean doing things differently...
Norm Ryan: As we suggested [when I ran for Mayor in 2002], it was all a matter of prioritizing...They [City Hall] had an opportunity to do this before it got to this level. I don't begrudge them [police officers] the pension plan that they want...given that they put their lives on the line. It was incumbent on the Council and the Mayor when they offered this to them to make sure that they could pay for it...
Gary DeLong: As a resident in Long Beach concerned about quality of life, I know you can't have quality of life without public safety. The crime rate has gone up significantly in the last three or four years. I think part of the solution is we need to pay our police officers a competitive wage. When you haven't had a raise in four years, when you're in ninth place out of tenth in the ten largest cities in terms of compensation, we need to fix that.
LBReport.com: What would you do?
Mr. DeLong: I think we need to pay them competitively, we need to do it as quickly as possible, and I think that if we need to trim further the bureaucratic fat, bureaucratic waste, then we need to do that.
LBReport.com: In that building? (motions to City Hall)
Mr. DeLong: In that building, at City Hall. I think that they've been working at it and I think they've made some progress. I think that they need to make even more progress.
Mr. Murchison: I think that past decisions by past City Councils have impacted us to where we're at today. I think it's a very decision but I believe public safety is the number issue in the city of Long Beach. They've got to make this decision. They've got to move forward on it, and I don't see too many ways around it, other than the fact they're going to have to reanalyze the budget and determine where they're going to be able to make cuts in other departments. It's an unfortunate circumstance but how can we afford to lose police officers?
A written statement was also distributed, bearing the typed names of State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D., LB-SP-PV), Assemblywoman Betty Karnette (D., LB) and So Cal Edison President Robert Foster (now a Mayoral candidate). The statement said in part:
We must show them [LB police officers] the good faith they deserve, and as a community make a commitment to provide our police officers with the resources and the compensation they need to protect our city. We should not compromise on vital issues that directly affect recruitment, retention or morale. We must make the effort to provide the tools and resources needed to maintain a top quality police force.
We urge the City Council and city management to continue negotiating with our local police officers, resolve the few obstacles that remain between the city and our police officers, and to give them a realistic contract that helps maintain the high level of protection we have come to expect.
...We urge the City Council to once again meet with our police officers and work to give them a contract that reflects our respect and commitment to their task of keeping our city secure.
POA President James said at the press event, "Our officers are tired of being underpaid and overworked and it's time for the Council to take a stand and to say it's no longer acceptable to be below the median, it's no longer to be acceptable to be number nine out of number ten, and it's time for the Council to understand that you get what you pay for."
We provide extended transcript excerpts below:
POA President James: ...We've lowered our standards. I don't care what the Chief of Police tells you, we've lowered our standards...
They know we're short staffed. They know we're hurting for people. They know we can't get laterals because of where we're at currently with our pay structure. The contract they offered us would annihilate any opportunity of getting laterals because nobody's going to come to a 3[%] at 55 retirement formula city...There are 250 other cities they could go to where they could get the 3[%] at 50.
...In a recent poll of our membership, 18% of our members have indicated they are currently looking to go to another agency where they can get adequate compensation so that they can take care of their families. 18%; that's 160 officers. Are they all going to leave? No, but if 10% of them leave, that's 16 officers that will be gone. I have it on very reliable sources from talking to other POA presidents in the last couple of days, there were two agencies testing last weekend. We met 20 of our officers testing...last Saturday at two different agencies. 20 of our officers were taking tests to go to other places.
This City Council has started us down a road that's going to demolish our police department. If they don't stop us from going down that road, I will be here in two, three or four years to say 'I told you so.' This Council will not be allowed to say it didn't know this was happening. I will not allow that.
They will have to make tough decisions. If they want to impose a contract on us, go ahead. They will demolish our police department and they will be held accountable for having done so.
Our demands are just to be reasonable and give us a fair and adequate amount of pay and to do it in a timely fashion. That's all I'm asking for.
The POA's last contract ended on June 30, 2004. "The ball is in the city's court. They [management] gave us their last best [offer], we voted it down. They can either go into an impasse proceeding or they can send city management back to the table and try to rectify the issues, and it's up to them," POA President James said.
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