Despite mediation, city and police department still at odds over pay; City Commission to make final decision

photo by: Journal-World Illustration

Lawrence Police Department logo, Lawrence City Hall

After dozens of hours of mediated negotiations, city and police union representatives still can not agree on how much of a pay increase officers and detectives should receive.

Because of the impasse, the Lawrence City Commission will have the final say on the remaining sticking points of the police department’s employment contract, which includes raises and other compensation issues. The commission will receive the final contract proposals from the city and the Lawrence Police Officers Association and consider setting a public hearing date for Tuesday, Aug. 14, when the commission will pick one of the proposals.

The employment contract covers wages, benefits and working conditions for officers and detectives and will expire at the end of this year. Remaining sticking points include the level of pay raises, as well as other compensation-related aspects of the contract, such as longevity pay, shift differential and funeral expenses.

The city’s and LPOA’s final proposals were released Monday evening, and they have gotten more complicated than just a disagreement about what, if any, across-the-board pay increase should be provided to police officers and detectives in 2019 and 2020. The new proposals now also include potential lump-sum payments, max pay increases and automatic raises for certain levels of seniority. A city staff memo to the commission did not indicate how much each proposal would cost the city.

Both the city’s and LPOA’s final proposals would fund the police department’s current pay plan, which provides officers and detectives up to a 5 percent annual pay increase for merit and special skills known as “competencies.” Officers and detectives who perform at the “meets expectations” level or above on their annual performance evaluations receive a 2.5 percent merit increase, according to the contract. Officers and detectives are also eligible to earn an additional pay increase of 2.5 percent for competencies or special training.

There are about 30 possible competencies in the current contract, including technical certifications, higher education achievements, and special assignments such as a school resource officer or canine handler. The contract states that officers and detectives can typically earn up to one competency per year and a maximum of six competencies total.

In addition to the potential raises in the current pay plan, the city’s proposal calls for a 1.5 percent across-the-board wage increase for police officers in 2019 and a 2 percent increase in 2020. For detectives, the city is proposing a one-time lump-sum payment equivalent to 0.75 percent of the previous year’s gross wages for 2019 and 1.7 percent for 2020.

In addition to the potential raises in the current pay plan, the LPOA proposal calls for an automatic 2.5 percent wage increase in 2019 for police officers who have worked for the department for at least nine years. The proposal states that all other officers will automatically get a 2.5 percent raise once they reach their ninth anniversary. The LPOA proposal also calls for the maximum pay for the most senior officers and detectives to increase by 2.5 percent in 2019. For 2020, the LPOA proposal calls for 1.5 percent across-the-board wage increase for all officers.

Representatives from the city and the union began contract negotiations in April, and after reaching impasse last month, they had four daylong negotiation sessions with a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

The proposed 2019 budget only includes funding for the merit and competency raises possible under the current pay plan, but commissioners have been told by city staff that they could elect to use reserve funds or make cuts to fund additional compensation. City Manager Tom Markus previously told the commission that funding the 2.5 percent merit and competency pay increases of the current pay plan for 2019 will cost the city $184,200. For city employees not covered by union contracts, the city’s 2019 proposed budget includes funding for merit increases, equivalent to 2 percent of base salary.

Originally, the city proposed a new pay plan with wage increases for only certain positions, based on pay rates of other Kansas cities. The LPOA originally proposed funding the current pay plan and a 5.5 percent across-the-board wage. The city previously agreed to fund the current pay plan as long as agreement could be reached on all remaining items in the contract, particularly the issue of management rights and equity among departments.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the commission will meet in executive session to discuss the negotiations. The commission will be in executive session from 5 to 5:35 p.m. at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The commission’s regular meeting will begin at 5:45 p.m.

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