Hialeah City Council imposed cuts to overtime and holiday pay for Hialeah police. The city expects those and other items in the new contract will save $5 million.
The Miami Herald
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Author: LAURA ISENSEE, lisensee@MiamiHerald.com
Hialeah police officers will earn less overtime, forego holiday pay and contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward health insurance costs.
Officers who work afternoon or midnight shifts will no longer receive higher pay. And 7 percent of their salaries — money that used to go in an interest-earning account for retirement — will instead help offset the city’s pension obligation.
These are some items in a new contract approved by the Hialeah City Council on Aug. 26 despite sharp outcry from police officers and union leaders.
Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina said police officers deserve higher pay and more benefits, but the down economy made the cuts necessary.
”This is not a reflection of their work or their professionalism or their service to the community,” Robaina said. ”This is just a reality of what our world is going through.”
Robaina said the measures are expected to save $5 million for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. Those savings includes $1.6 million from redirecting the savings accounts to pension payments; nearly $1.2 million from eliminating holiday pay and $900,000 from the police’s contribution toward health insurance.
For police, the measures will cut their salaries an average of $13,500, union leaders said. Hialeah police have a starting pay of $40,450. That is lower than many nearby departments.
”The bottom line is if the City of Hialeah can’t afford a police department, then it’s time to turn it over to the county. The citizens deserve better protection,” said John Rivera, president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, which represents Hialeah police officers.
Robaina said if Hialeah receives any extra federal or state money next fiscal year, the city will try to recoup some of the concessions.
For now, Hialeah police will have to live with the measures. The new contract takes effect through the end of the fiscal year in September and will continue as the status quo until a new contract is bargained. The previous contract expired last year.
The measures follow deadlocked talks between Hialeah and police union and come during tough financial times. Hialeah is bracing for a $18-20 million shortfall next year.
The City Council approved the measure 6-0, with Councilwoman Katharine Cue absent.
Earlier this month, a state-appointed magistrate recommended raising taxes to help resolve the failed contract talks. Police union leaders supported his recommendations.
Hialeah followed some of them: no cost of living increase; no merit or longevity pay; and cap tuition reimbursement at $2,000.
Under the new contract, Hialeah will also increase by 3 percent its HMO contribution for police. Overtime pay will kick in after 86 hours in a two-week period, instead of 80 hours.
But Robaina reiterated Hialeah will not raise taxes: ”Our residents, our business cannot pay more money in taxes.”
Firefighters and city employees have separate contracts and aren’t affected by Thursday’s decision. Their unions have also struggled to strike new agreements and the City Council approved salary cuts for city workers in July.
Police union leaders said they plan to take legal action on several measures from Thursday. Those include issues with how the Council imposed the contract and attempted to lighten their financial burden.
Andrew Axelrad, a lawyer for the police union, said the annuity accounts give officers the benefit of compounding interest. ”That’s going to grow into a little nest egg. What the city has done is basically stolen that money from them,” Axelrad said.
City attorney William Grodnick said Hialeah police officers receive the annuity plus interest in addition to their pension.
”The alternative was we were going to ask for a 12-percent deduction … We thought this might be less painful,” Grodnick said, noting the money for annuity accounts was already deducted from their paychecks.