Impasse in talks between police-fire unions, Port Angeles City Hall

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Labor contract negotiations have reached an impasse between the city and the unions representing Port Angeles' firefighters and sworn police officers, with an arbitration hearing with the officers union set for this fall.

The stall in negotiations, however, will not affect police or emergency services in the city.

“It has no impact on our daily operations,” said Police Chief Terry Gallagher, who is not represented by the officers union.

The issues at the heart of the impasse include wages, health benefits and sick leave. Representatives from both unions have declined to offer more specifics because negotiations are ongoing.

Three sessions held

City Human Resources Manager Bob Coons, the negotiator for the city, said Tuesday that it has had three so-called mediation sessions since January with Teamsters Union Local 589, which represents 30 police officers.

During theses sessions, an assigned staff member from the state Public Employment Relations Commission mediated discussions between the two parties.

The city and the officers union have failed to reach an agreement during these past mediation meetings, Coons said, leading to a formal arbitration hearing planned for sometime in October or November, though an agreement could be reached before then.

“Between now and then, if the city and union can work things out, we'll certainly try to do that,” Coons said.

Dan Taylor, union representative for Teamsters Local 589, has declined to comment on contract negotiations.

Neutral arbitrator

In an arbitration hearing, similar to a traditional court proceeding, both sides will present their cases for each portion of the union contract under dispute, Coons said, and a neutral arbitrator chosen by both the city and the union will make a decision by which both parties must abide.

Coons said both sides likely will hire a law firm specializing in labor relations to a handle the arbitration process, moves that could end up costing the city and the union about $20,000 each.

“That's why both parties take [arbitration] very serious,” said Coons, adding that the last time the city and this union went through the arbitration process was at least 10 years ago.

The city's contract with the represented police officers expired Dec. 31, 2011, Coons said, and the two parties have been bargaining throughout 2012.

The city's commissioned officers have not taken a pay increase since a 2 percent cost-of-living increase at the beginning of 2010 and a 1 percent increase in July of that year, Coons added.

Coons said the new contract being discussed will cover 2012 through 2014 and will apply retroactively to 2012 and 2013, meaning the city will owe the represented officers any cost-of-living increase that might be included as part of the new contract.

On May 7, the City Council unanimously approved a labor contract with the Teamsters representing the Police Department's 24 communications and support staff that included a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for 2013 and 2014, worth about $25,900 for 2013, Coons said.

Those employees did not take a pay increase for 2012.

The approved contract also increased those employees' share of their medical insurance premiums from 9 percent to 11.5 percent, resulting in $8,500 in savings to the city, according to Coons.

For the city's 21 firefighter/paramedics, represented by International Association of Fire Fighters Local 656, Coons said the city has had two mediation sessions so far this year after the union's contract expired Dec. 31.

End of May

Coons said he expects the next mediation meeting with the firefighters union to be at the end of this month.

Mike Sanders, lieutenant with the Port Angeles Fire Department and president of Local 656, said he preferred not to offer a guess on whether negotiations between the city and the firefighters union will reach arbitration.

“I believe both sides, the city and union, would like to avoid arbitration if possible, but sometimes, it's something that has to happen,” Sanders said.

“We're working with the city and the [fire] chief to try and reach a mutual resolution.”

Sanders, a 20-year veteran of the city's fire department, said he remembers the city and the firefighters union going into arbitration once in the late 1990s, though mediation has been more common.

“We've had meditation several times but not arbitration,” Sanders said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 21. 2013 6:14PM
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