Police union objects to city’s request for arbitration; Pay dispute debate continues
The police union has objected to the city of Cape Coral’s request to halt moving forward with an unfair labor practice claim and to defer the issue to arbitration.
Earlier this week, the city responded to a charge filed by the Cape Coral Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 with Florida’s Public Employees Relations Commission. It motioned to stay the proceeding and defer it to arbitration.
On Thursday, the union followed up with a response.
“Arbitration is inappropriate,” Gene Gibbons, the union’s attorney, said.
“Issues raised in the charge are outside of the contract,” he said.
The allegations that the union presents in the charge are violations of state law, Gibbons explained. The arbitration that the city is referring to relates to violations of the collective bargaining agreement between the two parties.
Nikhil Joshi, the city’s labor attorney, previously stated that the city filed the motion to stay and defer because the union had filed a grievance with the city that addressed the same concerns that it outlined in the state charge.
According to the objection filed Thursday, the union alleges in its charge that the city violated statutory requirements and procedures related to collective bargaining, “subjects which clearly fall outside the collective bargaining agreement and any arbitration.”
“The central debate of the FOP’s ULP (unfair labor practice) does not relate to the interpretation or application of the collective bargaining agreement,” the document states.
“At issue is the effect the (pre-employment) contracts have on the collective bargaining process and the legality of the city’s enforcement actions within the process,” the document continues.
Last month, the city began collecting repayment from 10 police officers for what the city has called unearned wage increases. Eight of the officers were subjected to a 10 percent pay cut, as well as returned to what officials have deemed to be their appropriate pay step level.
According to city officials, officers are required to have 60 educational credits to move up in step levels and receive the higher pay provided at each level.
The involved officers had agreed to obtain the required credits as part of a pre-employment contract. However, they did not obtain the credits and still moved up in step levels, receiving the higher pay at each level, officials said.
In Thursday’s document, the union also states that this case implicates “important public policy concerns and issues,” along with statutory ones.
The state commission has previously ruled that pre-employment contracts are illegal, but it has not decided whether illegal contracts are enforceable.
“This answer to this legal question will greatly influence a very important public policy concern for which PERC is best suited to address, not an arbitrator,” the document states.
“We believe that PERC is the administrative agency that’s been charged to handle such matters,” Gibbons said. “They have the knowledge and expertise to swiftly deal with this matter.”
The union’s objection will be taken into account when the state commission decides whether to accept the city’s motion, or deny it and proceed forward. The parties are set to present their case to the state at an April 4 hearing.
“We expected an objection, so I really have nothing to add,” Joshi said in an-e-mail. “Both sides raised their arguments, so it’s in the hands of PERC to decide whether the issues should be tried in arbitration, or in front of PERC.”
On Monday, the city manager denied the union’s grievance, assuring that the matter would move forward to arbitration on the city level.
Prior to that, the grievance went before the police chief, who deferred the complaint up to the city manager.
The city is seeking about $91,275 in total from the 10 officers.
When the city’s repayment plan went into effect, the union filed its initial unfair labor practice charge with the state. It was dismissed by the general counsel for being untimely and vague. The union then filed an amended one.
General counsel found reason to move forward with the amended charge.