Rochester Police agree to no-raise contract

A few years ago, the Rochester Police Department’s patrol officers were so unhappy that they flew a banner over the Rochester Christmas parade to air their grievances. But things have quieted considerably, and this month the officers agreed to a new contract in what has been described as a cooperative process.

City Manager Jaymes Vettraino said the three-and-a-half-year deal, which is retroactive to July 1, 2011, includes no raises for the first two years. After that, the officers will not receive a raise unless other city employees do.

“I think what it does is it recognizes, at the moment, that for the next two years everybody has some certainty,” Vettraino said. “But if two years from now, if property values go up … it really is based on economic conditions.”

The contract was approved unanimously by city council Nov. 3. Vettraino said the rancor of the past is long gone.

“I would characterize the negotiations with the police group as very cooperative,” he said. “We worked very hard on this. I think we were very creative in the environment we were working in.”

The members of POAM (Police Officers Association of Michigan) also agreed to a significant change in their health care. The new contract calls for a high-deductible policy, with the city contributing 75 percent of the deductible to the employees’ health savings accounts. The change will save the city 20 percent over its previous cost.

New hires will no longer receive longevity pay or retiree health coverage; their pensions will be based on a defined contribution, not the traditional defined benefit plan. Vettraino said that change is important to helping the city control its costs down the road.

The officers’ chief negotiator could not be reached for comment. Mayor Jeff Cuthbertson said the contract does not include any job guarantees.

“We have a contract that allows us to scale the force to the community’s needs,” he said, calling the department “right-sized” at the present time.

“The contract reflects economic realities. They understand the position the city is in. We are doing relatively well, but we need to be conservative with contracts.”

Cuthbertson attributed the change in the working relationship between the union and the city to “a sense of trust and respect” by both sides. He said the raise provision is a sort-of “me too” clause that kicks in only if other employees receive across-the-board raises.

“I think it’s early to speculate (whether) something like that would happen,” he said. “I would need to see substantial stability in the property market.”

Cuthbertson called the health-care changes “significant savings” that add up to nearly $200,000 over the life of the contract. The retirement changes could save much more, and may allow the city to fully fund its existing pension fund, which took a hit due to the stock-market downturn in 2008.

“We can now calculate what our upper liability is, and you can make funding decisions,” he said. “It’s within our grasp.”

Now the city turns to its DPW employees, who are members of AFSCME. Their contract expires June 30, and Vettraino said negotiations have just begun. The contract of police command officers also expires June 30. Both groups can expect a similar approach from the city.

“I think anyone who works for the city understands what council’s done the last three years and knows what to expect,” Cuthbertson said.

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