After police union rejects contract, city solicitor says both sides will continue negotiations

After Baltimore police officers resoundingly rejected a city-proposed labor contract with their police union Thursday night, both city and union officials hinted Friday that negotiations will continue.

The union had characterized the rejected contract as the city’s “final offer,” but Andre Davis, the city solicitor, played down the idea that the city was ready to walk away from the negotiating table or that the vote had left the city on unsound footing.

“I do not believe we’re in limbo at all. Officers reported for their shifts today and they will tomorrow,” Davis said Friday. “The next step will obviously be determined by the parties, individually and collectively.”

Davis said that “things take time to unfold” during such contract talks, but “both sides want an agreement.”

He did not respond directly when asked whether the city believed the contract that union members rejected was a “final offer,” or whether he believes the process is headed for arbitration.

“Precise next steps,” he said, “are somewhat open to determination.”

Lt. Gene Ryan, the union president, said Friday that his members “sent a message that they're disgruntled, they’re overworked, morale is at an all-time low and they’re underpaid.”

Now he hopes both sides “can sit back down at the table and come up with something that both sides can live with," he said — if the city intends to “negotiate in good faith.”

Ryan said city officials had not done so in recent months. He said the two parties had at one point “come to a tentative agreement” on the patrol schedule — the part of the contract most in dispute — before the city backed out.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement that she was “disappointed in the outcome of the vote but we will continue to work diligently to achieve a mutually acceptable” contract with the union.”

T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said the union’s vote wasn’t “a complete surprise,” as police were aware that the union’s bargaining committee had recommended its members not ratify the contract.

He said the vote “doesn’t affect any police operations,” and the department “will continue to work toward a fair agreement.”

Two union units voted Thursday. Officers and detectives voted 98 percent to reject the proposed contract, the union said, while lieutenants and sergeants voted 96 percent to reject it.

The exact contractual disagreements between the city and the union were not fully clear, but a major point of contention has been shift schedules.

City leaders say they don’t have enough officers to fill the shift structure that’s in place, which requires officers to work four 10-hour shifts per week. That schedule was implemented in 2015. Police commanders now want to switch the schedule back to one in which officers work slightly shorter shifts five days a week.

The Police Department says it can’t hire officers fast enough to fill the current schedule, and has been spending a million dollars a week on overtime that officers are being drafted into working. It says the shift change it proposed would alleviate the strain, particularly on the patrol division.

But officers like the current schedule — which gives them three days off a week — and aren’t budging on it, union officials and officers say.

“It’s all a quality-of-life issue, so they can have a personal and family life,” Ryan said. “Mandatory overtime is hard enough to deal with.”

Officers are routinely drafted to work overtime — adding five hours to the end of a full shift, for instance, whether they want to do so or not, Ryan said. But the current schedule provides some buffer to work becoming all-consuming, he said.

The shift change was so important to the city that it abandoned in its proposed contract another provision that Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis have said in the past was a top priority for them: putting civilians on trial boards that assess officer misconduct. The boards are currently composed entirely of police officers.

Union officials have long rejected that idea, but it was city officials who left it out of the proposal they put forward.

The proposed contract, which would have retroactively applied to July 1 of last year and lasted until June 30, 2019, would have created a 28-day patrol schedule of three 8-hour-and-35-minute shifts a week, according to the materials provided to members. Officers would work five days, have off two, work four days and then have another two off. The department would not have to provide officers with 14 days’ notice of changes to their regular days off.

In exchange, officers would have received a one-time $500 bonus in lieu of a salary increase for last year, a 3 percent salary increase retroactive to this past July 1, and another 2 percent salary increase effective July 1, 2018, according to the materials.

The union had put forward a different proposal seeking higher raises and specific protections for officers when it comes to drafting them to work overtime.

Ryan said he wants to get back to the table.

“The best-case scenario is we sit back down,” he said.

krector@baltsun.com

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