Politics & Government

City approves Tacoma police union contract for 2015-16

With six months left in the year, the Tacoma City Council has approved the 2015-16 contract for its largest police union.

The membership of Local 6, which represents 307 rank-and-file officers, overwhelmingly approved the new bargaining agreement July 8, union president Sgt. Jim Barrett said.

The City Council approved the contract Tuesday.

It includes retroactive wage increases of 2.2 percent for 2015 and 1.1 percent for 2016, which reflect cost-of-living adjustments, Barrett said.

Other highlights include union members agreeing to forgo 0.75 percent of their salaries, starting Sept. 1, toward a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association program for eligible retirees.

That will allow them to collect $500 a month to spend on health care costs until they reach Medicare eligibility.

It’s an important tool to have, Local 6 leaders said, because many law enforcement professionals retire well before age 65 because of the physically taxing nature of the job.

“There are several studies out there about not just law enforcement officers, but firefighters too, that the nature of our work puts stresses on our lives so much through the years that we have a shorter lifespan because of it,” Barrett said.

The statewide retirement age for law enforcement officers and firefighters is 53, he said.

The agreement integrates Local 6 members into the same health benefit programs as other city employees, and allows them to participate in the city’s wellness program, said Joy St. Germain, Human Resources director for the city.

2.2%retroactive wage increase for Local 6 starting Jan. 1, 2015

1.1%retroactive wage increase for Local 6 starting Jan. 1, 2016

0.75% union salary put toward Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association program

St. Germain said in presenting the contract to the City Council, “There are minor changes to work schedule provisions that better serve the members and the city.”

Among those: Early shifts will start an hour earlier, at 5 a.m., which will allow for an hour of overlap with the graveyard shifts so that less overtime will be incurred by graveyard shift officers responding to calls toward the end of their shifts, Barrett said.

Also, a policy that those mandated to work July Fourth will receive triple pay because of the high demand for police services on that holiday has been codified in the latest contract, Barrett said.

He called the contact fair, but noted that because the period it covers is almost up, the union and the city will be back at the bargaining table soon.

“We don’t think we’d asked for anything outrageous or out of the ordinary,” he said. “We feel it’s a fair contract for our members and the city of Tacoma and its citizens. The length of time was concerning and we hope it doesn’t happen again in our next negotiations.”

The union has been publicly pushing the city to hire more police, and the department has said it is short 60 officers from the number it had on staff in 2008.

Local 6 released a poll this spring indicating that more than two-thirds of those surveyed “support increasing the budget and restoring our staffing to pre-recession levels,” according to a union email sent to Mayor Marilyn Strickland, members of the City Council and others Tuesday.

“Crime in Tacoma has increased since these cuts, especially our drive-by shootings,” reads the email, with the subject line Restoring Tacoma Police Resources. “The services we used to provide to our citizens cannot be fully provided today.

“We are proud of our hard-working community, and like many of our citizens we are worried about the future of our neighborhoods. Our officers are doing everything we can to protect and serve our neighborhoods with limited resources, but it is not enough.

“We have 20 percent fewer commissioned officers than we did in 2010, despite a growing population and increasing crime.”

The city has projected a $6.7 million deficit in the 2017-18 budget.

In a memo sent from the city manager and budget director’s offices to city department heads in May, the police and fire departments each were directed to target cutting 2 percent from their budgets for that biennium.

Most other departments were directed to target cutting 4 percent.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441