Police union, city representatives disagree on whether senior officers should get first pick of shifts

photo by: Journal-World Illustration

Lawrence Police Department logo, Lawrence City Hall

City officials and local police officers union representatives could not agree on whether officers’ seniority should generally allow them to pick what shift they work.

At a contract negotiations meeting Thursday afternoon between city officials and Lawrence Police Officers Association representatives, the city proposed that the contract should state that seniority will be considered for shift assignments, but that the chief will have the final say and that the police department’s needs will be the determining factor.

The police department has four shifts, and officers bid on shift assignments every six months, according to the current contract. LPOA Chairman Drew Fennelly said the LPOA’s position is that the current process of generally using seniority to govern shift assignments has worked fairly well. He said officers’ ability to pick their shifts was key to job satisfaction, and they want the current process to remain in place.

“This topic, with the exception of pay, has a more substantial impact on an employee’s happiness than anything else,” Fennelly said. “When dealing with the employee’s ability to decide what hours of the day they are going to work, I think you are dealing with the difference between a happy employee and someone looking for another job.”

Currently, the contract states that “all other factors being equal, seniority will govern in bidding for shift assignments.”

City Manager Tom Markus asked how that process affects new hires and those officers who are mid-range when it comes to seniority. Markus said he thinks criteria other than how long an officer has worked for the department should be used to assign shifts, and that he does not think that process should be in the contract.

“That’s why it’s impossible to change it even when it needs to be changed,” Markus said. He likened the chief’s position to that of a coach, and said the chief should be able to reserve the ability to put officers on the most appropriate shift, based on factors such as their experience level, qualifications and the needs of each particular shift.

Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. said he is not necessarily opposed to using seniority as a factor, but also said there are a lot of factors that go into shift assignments and that the chief needs to have the authority to decide whether the process needs to change.

In order to account for the need to balance shifts with new and experienced officers, Fennelly suggested that the provision could only allow officers with at least two years of experience to bid for their shifts. Markus said that would not address all of the city’s concerns. Ultimately, Fennelly said it was obvious an agreement would not be reached that day, and that the LPOA would come back at a later date with revised language regarding bidding for shift assignments.

The city’s employment agreement with the LPOA covers wages, benefits and working conditions for officers and detectives and expires at the end of this year. During Thursday’s meeting, city staff also distributed a salary study it commissioned to compare the rates of pay for the Lawrence police department to other similar departments in Kansas. The LPOA is proposing that the pay grade for police officers and detectives should increase by 5.5 percent next year in order to keep pace with comparable positions in peer cities. The city has been waiting to make its compensation proposal pending the completion of the study, and Markus said the city would send its proposal ahead of negotiation meetings scheduled for next week.

The next meeting between the city and the LPOA will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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