Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Police Union Criticizes Contract Arbitration Award Increases Officers' Cost for Health Care

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Police Union Criticizes Contract Arbitration Award Increases Officers' Cost for Health Care

Article excerpt

An arbitration award received Monday by the city of Pittsburgh and the Fraternal Order of Police would increase officers' scheduling rights, but means stagnant paychecks for a force that already feels underpaid.

Police get raises of 1 percent this year and 2 percent in each of the next two years under the award. But starting next year, they'll pay 15 percent of their health insurance charges, up from around 9 percent now, which could negate the raise.

That creates little incentive for officers to stay with the city, rather than going to easier and more lucrative suburban departments, said Officer Robert Swartzwelder, president of FOP Lodge 1. "If they just decide, 'you know what, we're sick of this,' and just walk, you'll have huge gaps in [police] coverage. Huge," he said.

Mayor Bill Peduto, though, called the award "a fair - and legally required - contract in which neither side got everything it wanted." He said it is consistent with the recovery plan under Act 47, the law for distressed municipalities that caps contract awards and has governed city finances since 2004.

His spokesman, Tim McNulty, noted that the city expects to have brought on 130 new officers by year's end. "So there's great interest in being a Pittsburgh police officer, as it's one of the best police departments in the entire country," he said.

The award awaits only the signature of a neutral arbitrator, who is expected to sign it this week. The union's arbitrator dissented from the award. It takes effect immediately, although the union in an appeal to the state Supreme Court might ask for a stay.

The administration emphasized improvements in officer control over scheduling. Under the award, police can bid for new locations and shifts annually. Currently, only one quarter of the officers - the most experienced - can bid for new assignments.

The award also includes a pilot program under which officers could opt for schedules of four 10-hour days, and restricts the circumstances under which they can be called in on their off days. …

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