Cops on the chopping block
Six Chico PD officers lose their jobs after a stalemate in contract negotiations
The Chico Police Department kicked off the new year with six fewer officers on its paid staff, marking the city’s first-ever layoffs, after the department’s labor union and the city failed to reach an agreement on pay cuts.
On Monday (Jan. 3), Chico police officer Will Clark, lead negotiator for the Chico Police Officers Association, outlined a number of alternative solutions the union had proposed to meet the city’s targeted savings, including reducing overtime, offering retirement incentives, and asking each officer to take two furlough hours a week for an indefinite period of time.
But the city rejected the plan, Clark said.
“The city chose the unreasonable option of layoffs, while rejecting the easy and reasonable option,” Clark said, referring to the furlough option.
The Chico police officer was speaking near the steps of the City Council Chambers, after announcing that the bargaining group had reached a deadlock in negotiations over wage concessions the city asked for to avoid the layoffs and alleviate its two-year projected budget deficit of $6.7 million. The mood at the press conference was solemn, with several uniformed and out-of-uniform officers, along with their friends and family, huddled into a crowd of about 30.
City officials have been negotiating with the city’s eight bargaining units—including those that represent firefighters and public-service employees—since May 2010, when all city employees were asked to take a permanent 5 percent pay cut effective in 2011. With the exception of the firefighters union, the bargaining units’ contracts expired on Dec. 31.
By the city’s end-of-the-year deadline, the CPOA and the Service Employees International Union that protects trade workers were the only two groups that had not come to an agreement. The other six groups avoided layoffs and many avoided the full 5 percent wage reductions by proposing permanent alternatives, such as offering to have employees pay higher portions of their retirement or health benefits, said City Manager Dave Burkland by phone Tuesday from his office in the City Municipal Center.
But furloughs weren’t granted to any units, largely because that option is a temporary fix, Burkland explained. After the CPOA’s two-year contract expires, the furloughs likely would be reversed, and the city doesn’t know if it will be able to afford that.
The unpredictability of the economy also explains why the city wouldn’t promise no future layoffs in the event that the CPOA accepted the wage reductions, a question that’s been raised by CPOA members in recent months.
“What we asked for, since this is an uncertain economy, is to have a permanent wage reduction. And clearly, down the road, if the city has good times again—and I certainly think we will—we can talk about raises [for those whose wages were decreased],” Burkland said.
Police Chief Mike Maloney, who is not a CPOA member and did not attend the press conference, said by phone Tuesday that the Jan. 1 layoffs required immediate restructuring in the Police Department. Two detective positions, two graveyard-shift positions, one gang officer and one TARGET team member have been reassigned to patrol duties.
Five of the officers who lost their jobs have returned as volunteer-reserve officers. The sixth officer has taken an hourly job at another North State police department, Maloney said.
During the press conference, CPOA members expressed concern that the layoffs would require officers to work overtime, which is costly, as well as concern about 9-1-1 response times.
However, understaffing isn’t a new issue, Maloney said.
“I don’t envision this will result in increased response times or increased use of overtime in the short-term perspective,” he said. “But in the longer-term perspective, this is a department that is structurally understaffed, and over the years the city and activity have grown but the department has not.”
Maloney, who has watched the negotiations closely, admitted the past few months have been hard on those involved. “Relationships all throughout the city have been strained,” he explained. “[Wage] issues have a personal aspect to them, and they cause anger and frustration.”
That was evident at the City Council meeting Tuesday night (Jan. 4), when Clark accused the city essentially of negotiating in bad faith, being “unreasonable” and putting the citizens of Chico in jeopardy.
That angered several council members, including Scott Gruendl. “It’s hard to sit here and listen to some of these comments,” he said testily. “Furloughs are by their nature temporary,” he insisted, and the city is “trying to set a base for long-term economic stability.”
“We’ve been open and honest and fair,” Mayor Ann Schwab insisted, noting that city employees will continue to get annual step increases, many as much as 5 percent.
The city’s trade-workers union was also unable to reach an agreement with the city by Dec. 31, and three positions (one equipment mechanic and two maintenance positions, one of which was vacant) were eliminated until the union approves the city’s offer, which is expected to happen in the next few days, Burkland said.
That will make the CPOA the final holdout in negotiations. A mediator is expected to step in soon. If both parties still can’t agree, the city eventually will impose its “last and final offer” on the CPOA. It will include the same 5 percent wage decrease for some 90 department employees—the same offering the union has rejected all along.
“In either case, the [six] officers will be able to come back to work,” Maloney said.