Bethlehem Press

Monday, September 16, 2019

Police pact nets 3% raise

Tuesday, August 6, 2019 by The Press in Local News

After a lengthy arbitration process that began in May of 2018, the City of Bethlehem police bargaining unit, represented by the Fraternal Order of Police Star Lodge #20, was awarded a 3 percent raise each year for the years 2018-22 through an arbitration award issued under the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (also known as Act 111).

No changes were made to their healthcare or pension benefits.

The administration and FOP commenced negotiations for a successor agreement in 2017. During these discussions, the city made a conscientious effort to reach an amicable settlement with the FOP’s bargaining team. Contrary to the claim made by FOP Lodge #20 President William Audelo, the city did, in fact, propose a multi-year percentage-based wage increase that was comparable to the increases provided to the city’s other employee groups, including under a settlement that had recently been reached with the SEIU Local 32BJ, the labor organization that represents the city’s public works, clerical, water and sewer employees.

However, the city was advised by the FOP’s negotiators that they would not take any such proposal back to the membership for a vote unless it included significant increases to pension and health care benefits for its members. Because the city was of the view that such enhancements would have been costly and unsustainable, the city could not accept the FOP’s proposals in that regard.

Consequently, the FOP declined to bargain further and instead requested the matter move to binding arbitration, where it continued to insist on enhancements to wages, healthcare and pension benefits. Hearings in this matter were held last spring and fall, and the arbitration panel’s decision was delivered to the parties recently.

Mayor Robert Donchez said, “This has been a long and difficult process. The city officials involved with the bargaining process at all times worked diligently and in good faith in order to reach a negotiated settlement of the city’s police contract. We understand and respect the process in place for resolving these types of situations, the time that it takes, and acknowledge that in rendering its decision, there were many difficult issues with which the arbitration panel had to grapple. Now that this matter has been concluded, it is time to move forward.

“The administration continues to appreciate and respect the hard work of our police force and their service to the residents and visitors of the City of Bethlehem.”

The police department is the city’s largest expense. The City of Bethlehem’s budget for police is $24.2 million, which represents 31 percent of the city’s entire budget. After $13.3 million in personnel, the largest cost drivers are $24.2 million for healthcare and $6.1 million for pensions.

Contributed article