Smaller than normal year-end bonuses have stalled labor talks between Lawrence police officers and City Hall, and it appears likely that talks with Lawrence firefighters are also headed toward an impasse.
On Wednesday, representatives with both the Lawrence Police Officer's Association and the city's management team confirmed that negotiations over a new work agreement for police officers were declared to have reached an impasse last week.
A federal mediator has been called in to help resolve the dispute, which focuses on reductions to year-end longevity bonuses paid to city employees.
Unlike private sector labor disputes, the threat of a strike by police and firefighters is not likely. State law prohibits public employees from going on strike.
"We don't anticipate any impact regarding public safety service as a result of this," said Diane Stoddard, an assistant city manager who is a negotiator for the city. "We have very professional police and fire departments."
But a lingering labor dispute clearly could create other employee problems.
"It definitely would hurt morale in the organization," said Brandon Holloman, a Lawrence firefighter who is the vice president of International Association of Firefighters Local 1596. "The issue of being recognized for tenure and experience is very important to us."
The issue revolves around the city's flagging financial condition. Under City Manager David Corliss' recommended 2009 budget, the annual longevity payment made to city employees with five or more years of service will be cut in half. Under Corliss' plan, which has been endorsed by city commissioners, the longevity payment would be cut from $48 per year to $24 per year. The reduction will save the city about $212,000 in 2009, Stoddard said. The cut would apply to all city employees, not just police and fire employees.
But both police and fire representatives said the cut is too severe in a time period when city employees are facing rising household costs while being asked to do more work to compensate for a shrinking city workforce.
Mike McAtee, chairman of the Lawrence Police Officer's Association, said the reduced longevity bonuses would reduce the bonuses to levels not seen since the late 1970s.
"This is very, very important to our membership," McAtee said. "We work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for this community."
The work agreements, analogous to labor union contracts, for both the police and fire departments expire at the end of the year. The city has been negotiating with both groups in closed-door sessions since early June.
McAtee said his group declared the talks to be at an impasse last week. Holloman said he believes his group will likely do the same when it meets on Monday.
Under city rules, a federal mediator will arrive in the next few days to try to work out a compromise between the two sides. If a compromise isn't reached, both sides will present their "final offer" on the matter. City commissioners then will be asked to choose between the two.
The police and fire negotiations are holding up decisions on what, if any, pay increases other city employees will receive. The city has budgeted $1.3 million for wage increases for city employees in 2009. But the proposed budget does not get into specifics about how that money will be distributed. It also leaves open the possibility of not awarding any cost-of-living increase to employees, but rather basing all increases on performance reviews.