April 12, 2011 was the starting date for one of the biggest and most expensive battles that the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association has ever faced in its 55 years of existence. It started with a simple email from the Chief Budget Officer for the City of El Paso to Police Executive Staff with a courtesy copy to the President of the Association. Just over 19 months later that simple email and others will cost the City of El Paso just over 3 Million Dollars to fix a problem that could have been corrected if City Officials would have just listened.
Like most cities, in and around Texas, the City of El Paso pays police officers on a Wage Scale Average with other cities of similar size and financial makeup. This Market Approach has been accepted by numerous labor organizations along with City Governments because of its ease of understanding and upfront fairness to both sides. It has given both sides a workable strategy to plan for future growth and stay competitive within the law enforcement market. Since El Paso Police Officers are always being compared to others officers around the state because of our exceptional training and excellent track record in National Crime Polls, it is an accepted model. One flaw in the model is that officers from El Paso are always substandard in benefits because of the meager economics conditions that surround El Paso. The Tax Base in El Paso cannot compare with other cities such as Dallas, Austin or Houston even though we are always compared to them on pay and benefits. El Paso Police Officers are compared to seven other cities in the southwest (Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque) but if you utilize a dollar for dollar comparisons we rank -20% below the poorest city on the scale in paying our officers. The police association has realized that fact for years and has attempted to keep us within the medium of all seven cities as noted in our contract to retain officers and keep our City safe.
The problem arose when other financially desperate cities started furloughing officers, cutting pay and violating Collective Bargaining Agreements or Meet and Confer Agreements in 2009 and 2010 in an attempt to balance budgets on the backs of first responders. The City of El Paso weathered the crash of the stock market very well during that time thanks to City Leaders and the help from all city employees. Let us not forget that the police union agreed with two MOU’s that saved the City of El Paso almost 3.17 Million over 2 years, a reduction in man power and budgetary cuts over the last 4 years. Currently the El Paso Police Department’s uniformed staffing level is at a 13 year low since 1999. Even with all the help and cut backs the City’s Financial Leadership tried to utilize immoral tactics to manipulate the numbers to further reduce our pay below the medium range. When you attempt to use the financial misfortune of others for your own gain something is wrong. The EPMPOA would not tolerate such actions and after several attempts to correct the problem filed a grievance to stop this practice in its tracks. After 12 months of being ignored, but constantly reminded, the City faced the issue and admitted fault.
As El Paso CLEAT Attorney Jim Jopling explained: “When the City of El Paso miscalculated its police officers’ pay scales, CLEAT was there to prosecute the EPMPOA’s grievance. After marathon negotiations, the city agreed to settle the dispute on very favorable terms and pay its police officers over $1.2 million in back pay and benefits. The El Paso officers will be receiving back pay that includes overtime, shift differential pay and benefits. Another issue arose during the grievance that worried many officers. In addition to underpaying patrol officers, some members of the command staff were overpaid in 2012. As a result of the settlement, that overpayment was reduced to a minimum and no officer will be paying any money out of pocket. This case is a great example of what can be accomplished with a unified front and the strength of CLEAT. Congratulations to the EPMPOA on a terrific result!” The El Paso CLEAT Attorney was a little modest in his remarks with the final outcome being what is listed below:
All Officers and Detectives (867 Members) will receive the following:
12 Months of back pay of 1.8% from Sept 1, 2011 to Sept 1, 2012 (to include Shift Differential and Overtime Pay, lump sum check)
1.5% increase in pay from Sept 1, 2012 to Sept 1, 2013 (Retro and Back Pay from Sept 1, 2012 when the Payroll Freeze was implemented to include your Seniority Steps)
The City stated that 140 Supervisors (most senior sergeants) were overpaid by almost $380,000.00 and needed to pay back the City. That number is now about 10 with names & amounts to be given to the association to confirm amount. No employee will have any pay reduced or taken from them but if they owe it will come from any future raise or step.
New Pay Increases for all ranks starting September 1, 2012 to September 1, 2013 are now going to be what is listed below:
Officers and Detectives 1.5% (867 Members)
Sergeants New Sgt. 0.14% Senior Sgt. 0.63% (125 Members)
Lieutenants New Lt. 2.16% Senior Lt. 0.84% (37 Members)
Commanders New 1.13% Senior 1.48% (7 Members)
Asst. Chiefs 1.48% (5 Members)
All back pay and pay corrections will take effect in October 2012 as the City will start issuing checks in alphabetical order (3 to 4 months to complete all work).
Total cost for the errors on the City's calculations is just at 3 Million, according to the association’s calculation, not including man hours to correct the issue and pension contribution errors.
This issue was not just about a miscalculation in financial matters, it was more about City Management ignoring the elected union leadership and its police workforce. One thing most high ranking managers forget is that they are replaceable and report to the employees. We don’t work for them, they work for us. Police Officers work for the citizens of El Paso and not management and in turn the association works for its members. The Collective Bargaining Agreement is a document of the association not property of the City and subject to interpretation from management. The basic facts of fair labor practices are not complicated and are pretty straight forward. When you believe that you are better than others or smarter than others based on position or title, you will fall harder when your time comes and it always does. This victory is not about financial gain or bragging rights because we won, it’s about the basic principles of equality and honesty. If you do the right thing and stay focused on your goal you will be victorious.