Police, City Battle Over Contract

For more than two hours Monday, members of the Cincinnati City Council's Finance Committee argued over what was called a "disastrous decision," and how it might influence their negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police for a new contract.

Last week's decision, to allow an arbitrator's ruling on a raise for middle management employees to stand at 4%, was hotly contested again Monday. The committee's chairman, John Cranley, argued it sent a confusing message to other unions. In December, he said, the council cut funding for some programs, while promising money would not be spent on raises. "The bad decision council made last week," he says, "has ramifications for the budget on all of our contracts and it's going to cost tax payers money."

The FOP's Vice President all but promised the union will use last week's decision against the city. "What our officers have been offered," Keith Fangman says, "is just an absolute slap in the face."

The two main sticking points are salaries and health benefits. The FOP says officers need more money to help pay for the increase in the price of health care. The union is asking for a 6% raise each of the next two years.

The city originally countered with a three year contract that included no raise this year, but 1.5% raises in '06 and '07.

A independent fact-finding report released Friday attempted to bridge the gap. It called for a three year contract with a 3% raise this year, 2% in '06, and more negotiating for '07. The report offered opinions on 10 separate points of dispute between council and police, and generally ruled in the city's favor. But Cranley believes council's middle management raise changes all that momentum.

Other council members say the 4% raise actually helps council. James Tarbell supports the raise for middle managers and says it's widely misunderstood. He says 2% of it is cost of living, and the other 2% is incentive based, that only about half of the employees will even qualify for it. "It's apples and oranges," to compare the two raises, he says, and an independent arbitrator will know that.

The police are willing to test that theory. They say they will not agree to this latest offer, sending the negotiation to an independent decision-maker. "We're going to take this to binding arbitration," Fangman says.

If that happens, both sides take a risk, because unlike the middle manager's arbitration, this one can not be overturned.