JAMESTOWN – The city of Jamestown will have to make a retroactive salary payment to members of its police union before the end of this year. That’s the recent ruling of an independent arbitration panel that was created to settle a contract dispute between the city and the Jamestown Kendall Club after the two sides reached an impasse in negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement covering the years 2016 and 2017.
The panel met earlier this year to hear testimony from both sides, with the independent arbitrator and chairman of the panel being Howard Foster. The other two panel members were City clerk Todd Thomas and John Crotty, who will serve on behalf of the police officers.
Following testimony and deliberation, the panel released its 44-page ruling on the matter, with a key provision being that all wages for union members shall be increased by 2 percent for both the years 2016 and 2017.
While both Foster and Crotty concurred to the pay-raise decision, Thomas dissented, claiming the city doesn’t have the funding available to afford the raises due to its reaching its constitutional tax limit. That was contrary to the union’s argument that although the city may not have been able to use tax revenue to pay for a salary hike, the city did have other means to make the payment, primarily from dividend payments from profits made by the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities.
“The city cannot increase taxes, cannon unilaterally alter the [BPU tax equivalency], and cannot budget a [BPU] dividend where there are insufficient profits or knowledge of profits. In short, the city lacks the ability to pay a substantial wage increase,” Thomas wrote in his opinion, adding, “Apart from a general inability to pay, the evidence was insufficient to prove that the Union requires an increase in wages.”
As part of the pay-raise issue, the arbitration ruling also stated that the retroactive raise must be made to the members no later than Dec. 15, 2018.
In addition to the pay raise, the panel also ruled in a 2 to 1 decision that effective December 31, 2017, members of the union shall pay 19 percent toward the total monthly premium for health and dental insurance and effective January 1, 2015, any employee or retiree who doesn’t participate in the city’s voluntary health and wellness program will see their premiums payment set at 26 percent, effective Dec. 31, 2017. The union dissented to this portion of the ruling.
“I believe the record of evidence supports a wage increase higher than what was awarded by the Chairman and it did not support the increase in employee payments toward the cost of health insurance that the city sought and was awarded which erodes the value of the wage increase,” Crotty wrote in his opinion. “That said, the award is the ‘just and reasonable determination of the matters in dispute’ that the Taylor Law requires.”
The arbitration panel also unanimously ruled that effective January 1, 2016 all employees who have completed 17 years of service shall receive longevity payment of $3,000 per year thereafter.
Because the arbitration decision was only posted on the state Public Employment Relations Board website on Wednesday, WRFA is unable to get immediate comment from city officials on what the financial impact would be for the city to make the retroactive salary payments as ordered by the arbitration panel.
The Jamestown City Council is currently working on a budget for 2019 and the additional payment to the police union will likely factor into that discussion in the coming weeks.
The decision could also have an impact on the city’s contract with its firefighters union, since both the police and fire union involve public safety employees who have traditionally had very similar, if not identical, contracts. The 2016 and 2017 labor contract with the firefighters is also currently at an impasse and could go to arbitration as well, unless the two sides agree to follow the terms laid out in the police union contract arbitration decision.