Roseville police union weighs action over contract stalemate

Published: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 - 9:41 am

Engulfed in a war of words and a contract stalemate, the head of the union representing Roseville police officers says officers may need to become more politically aggressive to secure a palatable deal.

The 100-member unit has been working under the city-imposed "last, best and final" contract offer since May.

The primary area of disagreement was the city's insistence that police officers pay the full employee contribution to their pension plans, which amounts to 9 percent of their salary.

Jerry Wernli, president of the Roseville Police Officers Association, said officers would find the increased pension costs more acceptable if they were phased in or were offset by attainable bonuses.

In contract lingo, "last, best and final" is a technical state of bargaining required before the employer can impose an unfulfilled contract's provisions. The "posted conditions" stand until a contract agreement can be reached.

The terms imposed by the city do include a $181 increase in medical coverage, but overall they cut officer take-home pay $400 to $600 a month – saving the city $875,000 a year.

Roseville officers continue to be among the highest paid in Northern California.

While the city has expressed an interest in resuming bargaining, Wernli said his members have little desire to rehash the same failed arguments. In the weeks that followed the council's 4-0 vote to impose conditions, the two sides exchanged sharply worded statements.

The union sent emails to city residents expressing shock that the city was "crying wolf" while "secretly hoarding $91 million in available revenue." The message asked residents to express their disapproval to the mayor and council members.

That letter and a similarly worded press release prompted a July 19 response from Mayor Susan Rohan and City Manager Ray Kerridge, chiding the union for misrepresenting the facts.

Kerridge said "confusing and misleading information" has prompted inquiries from the public.

"Just because the city has money doesn't mean it should spend it or spend it on salary increases," he wrote in a point-by-point retort.

The $91 million referenced was not revenue, it's money left in special funds for specific purposes, said Megan MacPherson, a city spokeswoman.

Wernli said this week that he stands by the email and the city should consider tapping those reserves.

"That is what reserves are for, bridging a gap until the economy becomes more viable," Wernli said. "They have done it for other projects. They just don't want to do it for labor costs."

Rohan said in an interview that the city is making a sound fiscal decision by not using reserves to fund ongoing costs, such as payroll. She also defended the use of reserve accounts.

"We don't run a city like I run my household with one checkbook," said Rohan.

MacPherson said saving money on salaries was one of the strategies for closing the city's structural deficit.

Since the 2010-11 fiscal year, the city has shrunk its budget deficit from $8.2 million to a projected shortfall of $3.1 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

"Roseville is really concerned about being good stewards of public funds," she said. "When times are good we put savings aside. We're not going to change our conservative fiscal approach. We are not out of the woods yet."

The officers' association is considering taking the fight to the ballot box.

"This has caused us to reassess how we do endorsements," Wernli said. He said the two council members the union endorsed in the last election, Pauline Roccucci and Carol Garcia, have not been as friendly as they would like.

"It would be nice to have people who are friends in office, people who would listen to you," Wernli said.

John Noble, a labor representative working for the unit, said officers have been forced to consider political action.

"The City Council's actions actually encourage members to get more involved than they used to be," he said.

Rohan said she's disappointed with the union's tough talk.

"I have no desire to have a war," she said, "or give police officers the impression their work is not valued."

Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @newsfletch.

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