Congratulations to the members of Jacksonville Lodge 5/30, their negotiating team and President Nelson Cuba for excellent work on their contract negotiations. From impasse, the Special Magistrate has recommended the F.O.P.’s side and more. Great work from everyone on the team and the JSO members. Hopefully the city will take the recommendations and move forward.
Nov. 29–A special magistrate has recommend Jacksonville police officers take a 2 percent pay cut but continue paying nothing for their health insurance — a better deal for the officers than even the Fraternal Order of Police itself has offered to take.
Local union President Nelson Cuba said Tuesday that he accepts the magistrate’s recommendation, but said he’d prefer to go back to the negotiating table and work out a three-year deal that he said would provide “long-term stability.”
The magistrate’s recommendations are the penultimate step in negotiations over a fiscal year 2009 contract, talks that have dragged on for more than two years. Those talks reached impasse under the Peyton administration, leading to the hearing before Special Magistrate James Sherman.
More recently, the city and the union have returned to the table, although those discussions stalled Nov. 16. At that point, the union was offering to take a 2 percent pay cut spread over two years, have members pay 5 percent of their health insurance costs and reimburse the city for mileage when officers who live outside Duval County take their patrol cars home.
The city was looking for a 3 percent pay cut starting in the contract’s first year — down from a 4 percent cut it had initially asked for — as well as a freeze on raises. It also and wanted the union to agree to negotiate pension benefits.
The pension issue has been a major sticking point, with the union contending that those negotiations should be done with the Police and Fire Pension Fund, as has been done for years.
Sherman’s recommendations don’t touch on the pension issue, with the magistrate saying it was unclear that he had the legal authority to deal with it. “He feels that to do so would only invite litigation and further uncertainty,” Sherman wrote.
He did recommend the 2 percent pay cut, although at the time the hearing began, the union was looking simply for a wage freeze. “The Special Magistrate was compelled to agree with the grim assessments offered by the city’s experts,” Sherman wrote, saying that the city could prioritize its finances.
Sherman was also swayed by the city’s argument that pain should be equally shared: The rest of the city’s workforce, including firefighters, has already had their pay cut.
The magistrate did not feel raises, known as step increases, should be frozen, however, saying that doing so would impose “arbitrary ad significant injustices” on the officers.
“Modifications to or abolition of step increases amounts to scrambling an egg that it can be difficulty, if not impossible, to unscramble,” he wrote.
Sherman also recommended against having officers chip in for insurance, saying that the physical exams they must take as condition of employment is a special burden faced by the employees and therefor they should be treated differently.
The city did not have an immediate comment on the recommendations, a 43-page document which it received today.
“He [Sherman] put forth a great deal of effort,” said city labor attorney Derrel Chatmon. “I want to go through it some more.”
If the city does not accept the recommendations, the issue is tossed into the lap of the City Council, which can impose a contract for fiscal year 2009. That deal would then become the status quo, and the city and union would return to the table for new talks.
Meanwhile, the new talks haven’t totally broken down, although a return to the table has not yet been scheduled.
“We always want to encourage negotiations,” Chatmon said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Cuba, likewise, said he’s hoping for more — and more successful — talks with the city.
“The current proposal we have on the table is a much better deal than the recommendations by this magistrate,” he said. “We’re willing to do our part.”
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