May 25, 2005 - After four months of meeting to negotiate a contract between the town and its public safety workers, the Oro Valley Police Officer's Association declared an impasse in talks May 13.
The OVPOA won the right last year to solely represent the town's public safety workers at the bargaining table after years of attempts to get the town to enact a "meet and confer" ordinance.
The association was finally successful after helping to elect new council members who supported the association's endeavor. After the ordinance was adopted by the council, an election was held to decide which of the Oro Valley public safety organizations, the OVPOA or the Fraternal Order of Police, would represent the workers. The OVPOA won.
As required by the ordinance, the association drafted a proposal "relating to the wages, benefits, hours, safety regulations and other working conditions" and submitted it to the town management in January. But since then, the two negotiating teams - each composed of employees - designated to come up with a contract to submit to the town council, have been unable to agree upon a place from which to start their talks.
The OVPOA submitted to the town a 40-plus-page document, crafted after the Tucson Police Department's contract and other contracts of associations affiliated with the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs outlining the policies and procedures it would like to see enacted through the proposal.
The management wished instead to start with the existing pay and benefits of the public safety workers, and then talk about a short list of the top concerns of the OVPOA membership that could be changed.
The unofficial meeting minutes and statements by members of both negotiating teams, show clearly this difference was never reconciled and on May 13, an impasse in negotiations was declared by the OVPOA members who believe the meetings were not getting results.
The council met in special session May 23, hearing from both negotiating teams and giving specific direction as to how to proceed. Management negotiating team member Bob Kovitz, also the town's governmental and community relations administrator, said, in an interview prior to the special session, that when the town received a proposal from the police association, 95 percent of it was taken directly from the Tucson Police Department's contract.
He said he knows this because he examined the two contracts side-by-side and because the police department's negotiators didn't disagree that was the case. He said that was unacceptable to the management's negotiating team, which did not believe it should be considering a document that governs a 1,000-officer force for the 87 sworn officers and 31 civilian employees in the Oro Valley Police Department.
Instead, Kovitz said the town's team asked the police to identify the top five issues of its members and use those as the basis for their meetings.
Because of the timing of when the ordinance was adopted by the council in October and the deadline written into the ordinance to have a proposal to the management by Jan. 2, the police officer's association was in a crunch to get its members' wishes in writing, said Councilman Terry Parish, who also is the liaison to the police department.
Parish added that, combining the time crunch with this being the first time for the OVPOA to write such a proposal and having very little experience with contracts and negotiations, and he thinks that is why what the officers presented to the management a contract that looked a lot like the existing Tucson Police Department's contract. Parish is Pima County Deputy Sheriff who has been a member of the Sheriff's deputies' union.
OVPOA President Dan Krueger said the time constraints were a factor in writing the proposal and that, while the results were very similar to TPD's contract, the OVPOA proposal had been customized to fit Oro Valley. He said it made sense to them to use the framework of a document that "is already successful." And while Parish said he does not believe the TPD contract works for Oro Valley's police in whole, he said that does not mean the town can't talk about the issues in that contract one-by-one to see which ones do apply to the town's employees.
OVPOA negotiating team member Troy Kranz said the association was able to boil down the original proposal to a 12-page memorandum of understanding submitted to the council that includes language he believes is "simple, easily understood and fair" and that, while what it contains is similar to Tucson's policies, it is also similar to agreements between police departments and municipalities across the state.
He told the council those 12 pages would be easier to understand and follow than the current employee handbook used in the police department, holding up the three-ring binder containing the handbook that is hundreds of pages.
One of the important parts of the OVPOA proposal is a request to have a step adjustment for all the employees now on the step plan. With a step plan, as long as an employee meets certain expectations laid out for him or her, he or she automatically gets a predetermined raise each year.
For most employees, that raise is 4 percent, but the association was asking to make it 5 percent for all police department employees. Kranz told the council this is at the top of the association's list because police officers in surrounding jurisdictions, for example Tucson and Pima County, make more than the officers in Oro Valley.
He said in order for Oro Valley to attract the best employees its salaries need to be competitive.
"There is a direct correlation between pay and benefits and the type of officers we are able to attract," he said.
The team also expressed concerns about losing existing officers to other cities if the pay is better elsewhere. But OVPD Cmdr. Larry Stevens, a member of the town's negotiating team, told the council the management team disagreed that slight differences in pay would affect the town's ability to find and keep good employees.
"We feel the minimal pay differences and minor step system difference between the city of Tucson and the town of Oro Valley are reasonable, and they're offset by many other factors unique to being an Oro Valley police officer," Stevens said, reading from a prepared statment.
Kovitz explained that such a department-wide raise would have a substantial impact on the town's budget. This budget year particularly has been described as a "maintenance year" with a tight budget.
There also was a policy in the OVPOA proposal that outlined new grievance procedures for police officers. Krueger said the policy "filled in the holes" of the town's existing policy, explaining that it would allow an officer with a grievance to go to human resources with a pressing issue, instead of having to follow the chain of command or wait the 40 hours mandated by the town-wide policy before filing a complaint.
Krueger said this is important because there are times, as an officer, when a decision needs to be made right away.
Stevens explained to the council that the team believed changing the grievance policy could mean a lot of staff time invested into enforcing it.
"This was another area where the management team was never presented with any compelling justification for a change that, if implemented, may have significant fiscal, operational and morale impacts."
Kovitz said as the management team looked at issues of worker rights, it considered what would be fair to the whole town, not wanting to single out the police staff as having rights different from everyone else.
In responding to the philosophy described by members of the management team that the town treat all of its employees the same to certain a extent, Parish said he agreed with that philosophy as a whole, but also believes, "for various reasons, you have to treat the police officers differently, but on a case-by-case basis," he said.
And while he is not in favor of having a completely separate handbook of policies and procedures related only to the police, he said he does believe being an officer means dealing with circumstances many other town employees don't have to deal with on a regular basis, for example being called away from family on nights and weekends to respond to emergencies.
And for that reason, there may be policies needed to address those circumstances.
"It's really a balancing act between treating the police fairly and not treating them so well that the civilian employees feel slighted as a result," he said.
Kovitz said the police department does get treatment that is different from the rest of the town's employees. As an example, he pointed to the police step schedule for salary increases. Other town employees instead receive merit-based raises ranging from 1 to 4 percent each year.
On Feb. 9 the management team responded to the original police proposal. In a memo the team writes that its response is "based upon the remarks made by the OVPOA leadership, both in meetings with OVPOA members and in the media."
In a story published in the EXPLORER Jan. 12 about ongoing litigation between some of Oro Valley's police officers and the town over compensation for carrying pagers while not on duty, Krueger was asked if the association's members would be looking to address pager pay as it crafted its proposal. Krueger responded, saying the union would "not be pressing for anything different" from the benefits the employees currently have.
So, attached to the memo, the management team included a list of current police benefits from which to begin negotiations, quoting Krueger, as quoted in the EXPLORER, in its memo explaining why.
At a March 16 negotiating meeting, Kovitz said the management told the police "this is not Tucson" and that it would prefer to use the list of existing benefits as the starting point for talks. At that time, the police team agreed to reformat its proposal.
"It was a significant undertaking," Kovitz said. "To do it would be a Herculean task."
And Kovitz said what came back to them at the next meeting, March 26, was "completely inadequate," still lacking the justification for the association's requests. He said if the police team was going to use parts of the TPD contract that was OK with the management team, but that it needed an explanation of how those policies would be implemented and what they would cost, not just to the department but to the whole town.
Kovitz said some of the policies that related directly to worker rights, for example, would have a fiscal impact on other town department's such as human resources, legal and administration.
Kovitz said at the last meeting, held May 10, the teams where ready to agree upon a draft memorandum of understanding, which included the current benefits of the police officers.
According to Kovitz, at that meeting, the OVPOA team stated that the memorandum was "essentially acceptable" but that there were five additional sections from the original OVPOA proposal the police wanted to include, which included the step increase.
Also included was a proposal that would allow dispatchers in the department to accumulate up to 120 hours of compensation time, which is double the current cap, and in line with what most officers can chalk up; a proposal to move civilian employees in the department to the step plan from the current merit-based compensation plan they now have; and changing the contribution made to the police employees retirement fund so that the town would contribute an additional 2.65 percent to keep the police staff from having to contribute more of their pay to the retirement plan as the required contributions rise.
The OVPOA stated in an e-mail to the management declaring the impasse that the "form and content" of the memorandum were still not acceptable to its members. Krueger said the one thing the two teams were able to agree on was the proposed 2.3 percent cost of living adjustment for all employees. At that meeting, according to Kovitz and Stevens, the OVPOA team told the management team that they had directions from their membership to ask that these items be included in the proposal as "all or nothing propositions." They were asked to get back to the management team by May 13 with either a confirmation of this stance or their wish to continue talks.
Krueger said at no time during those meetings did the association say "this is our final proposal" and that they were still open to negotiate.
On May 13, at almost 3 a.m., an e-mail was sent from Kranz to the town, declaring an impasse. The OVPOA distributed binders containing its 12 page proposal and a timeline of events to the council the following Friday. Kovitz said the management had never seen this version of the proposal prior to council getting it.
"The bottom line for the management team is still that throughout this process, we expected the OVPOA Committee to justify their proposals and requests so we could, together, take them forward to you," Stevens told the council at the special session. "Unfortunately, although the OVPOA asked for quite a bit, we did not see the justification necessary to recommend anything more than we have to you."
At the meeting, Mayor Paul Loomis said it is important to the council, and the community, that an agreement is worked out between the town and the public safety workers and that "it's done right."
"This is an exciting opportunity for the community, for all of us, as we develop this relationship," he said.
He said all of the issues that have been brought forward by the two teams have solutions and that there is "nothing that is way out there in left field" in any of the proposals. He asked that both teams review the proposals and provide rationale for the items that have been presented where there are differences between what the management laid out and what the OVPOA wants.
Parish told those present at the special session that he was unhappy with the way the negotiations had gone to date, but sees an opportunity to turn it around.
"I've been disappointed with a lot of the process," he said. "With the attitudes expressed when the impasse was declared and with the demeanor, the attitudes of the staff."
He said when he asked where the town management and OVPOA were at an impasse he was told on "everything." He said even at the special meeting, as the two teams discussed the issues, he "did not hear one word about negotiations."
"And that's what you were charged with," he told the teams. "I heard a lot of, 'they didn't provide adequate justification.' That's not what negotiation is about."
Councilwoman Conny Culver said she was disappointed that the OVPOA team declared an impasse.
"I did not see anything that could not be resolved," she said of the issues the two teams presented. "Both sides drew a line and no one was going to the middle to negotiate."
She said she was prepared to support bringing in a mediator, if it is needed, but for now, she encouraged the two teams to "put your hearts into it" and continue talks.
Vice Mayor Barry Gillaspie also agreed with Parish and said "the last thing I wanted was for this to have to end up in the council's laps and in front of the public."
Gillaspie proposed, and the council approved 6-0, with Councilwoman Helen Dankwerth absent, a series of motions to help get the talks back on track.
He asked that the step plan issues and COLA adjustments be addressed in time to include any changes in this year's budget, scheduled to be discussed for tentative approval at the June 15 council meeting.
He also asked that the town manager assist both teams in figuring out any underlying costs, resources or other needs that would be incurred by implementing any of the requests in the 12-page OVPOA proposal submitted to the council.
That proposal is to be broken down into separate issues and the background and justification for each request is to be provided. A response is to be written by the management team, and when in disagreement, an alternative is to be proposed and a justification provided. All of this is to be accomplished no later than Sept. 1 and anything that cannot be agreed upon at that time will be brought back to the council so that it can go through any remaining requests one-by-one and make decisions.
After hearing the wishes of the council on how to proceed, Kranz said he was glad the council was telling both sides what to do to negotiate, something he said he wishes had been going on from the start of the meetings.
"This is what we wanted to happen from the beginning," Kranz said after the meeting of the specific direction given to the two negotiating teams, because, he said, he did not believe much negotiating had taken place during the meetings leading up to the impasse.
In response to the management team's repeated statements that the OVPOA team members refused to provide justification for their requests, Kranz said that the team did try to provide what was asked of them, at least at the beginning, but became increasingly disappointed that their proposal was not being addressed during the meetings.
From January to May, Kranz said the OVPOA team's frustrations multiplied until it believed its best solution was to declare the impasse and seek a meeting with the council.
Krueger said he is "encouraged" by the council's direction and happy to hear that the step adjustment may be considered for this year's budget.
Parish said despite this hitch in the process, he hopes no police officer is under the impression that the town management is only sitting at the negotiating table because their hand has been forced by the meet and confer ordinance adopted by the council.
"I would be disappointed if that were coming from our police," he said, when asked if the management team could be feeling forced to negotiate differently because of the new process.
"No one has been more supportive, and encouraged the negotiating team to be fair and do a good job, more than (Town Manager) Chuck Sweet."
As an example, he said police negotiating team members have told him that Assistant Town Manager David Andrews has been "very supportive" throughout the process, and he does not believe this would be the case if the management did not want to work with the police.
"If they did not really want to do this and were just going through the motion, I don't think they would be as supportive as they have been," he said.