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Sterling Heights

June 14, 2013

Council rejects proposed police union agreement

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

A majority of Sterling Heights City Council members believed it was time for a do-over when they rejected a proposed collective bargaining agreement with the Sterling Heights Police Officers Association/Michigan Association of Police.

At a June 4 City Council meeting, members voted unanimously to reject the tentative agreement, which would have lasted from July until the end of June 2015.

Here are a few of the things the tentative agreement would have done, had it passed:

• Freeze wages at a July 2010 wage scale and pay newly hired full-time officers 10 percent less until they work for five years and get to the wage scale’s highest step.

• Hike co-pays and deductibles for health insurance.

• Reduce the bonus rate for serving on holidays.

• Remove the old system of retiree health care for new hires and replace it with a yearly allotment of $1,250 toward a retiree health savings account.

But according to several council members, the key sticking point was a provision that boosted an annual pension multiplier for new hires from 2 percent to 3 percent.

According to officials, this provision was offered due to the proposed loss of the old retiree health care setup. But the city said the multiplier increase caused the tentative agreement to cost the city more than the prior agreement.

Mayor Richard Notte said the 3 percent figure in the tentative police contract came from the arbitrator, not from negotiations with the administration. He also noted that the fire union’s contract calls for a 2 percent multiplier for new hires.

“If we agree to a 3-point multiplier for the Police Department, (the) next contract the Fire Department came to the city with, they would want a 3-point multiplier,” Notte said.

“And if they went to arbitration, the arbitrator would give them the 3-point multiplier. And over the years, that would be (an) astronomical expense on the city.”

Notte also said an actuarial study showed that the savings from new hires receiving no retiree health care were overshadowed by  a cost increase for a 3 percent multiplier.

“That equates to a plus-2.4 percent increase in (retiree) benefits,” the mayor said.

During the meeting, Sterling Heights Police Detective Robert Kovalcik spoke and said the union was committed to moving the city forward by reaching the tentative agreement.

“The new proposed agreement is in keeping with Gov. Snyder’s Economic Vitality Incentive Program for those police departments not eligible to receive Social Security,” he said. “We believe that there are significant benefits for both sides in this tentative agreement.”

After the meeting, Kovalcik, the negotiation chairman for the SHPOA, declined to speculate on when a deal could be reached. “I have no comment to make,” he said. “All I can say is we’re working toward a resolution.”

While the police officer proposal was scrapped, the council unanimously passed a collective bargaining agreement with the Michigan Association of Police (MAP) Police Clerical Employees Association.

That agreement, which lasts from July until the end of June 2016, contains concessions such as freezing wages for police clerical positions and lowering newly hired full-timers’ pay by 15 percent, compared to the rates for other workers.

Councilman Joseph Romano praised the unions for their continued cooperation with the city to manage the financial outlook.

“We’ve got a lot of unions in the city,” he said. “The vast majority of them have stepped up and said, ‘We understand times are tough. We’re willing to give concessions.’ And they have.”

Learn more about Sterling Heights at www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.