City, police union exchange insults after contract dustup
February 18, 2017 12:17 AM
Mayor Bill Peduto
By Liz Navratil and Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rising tensions with the Pittsburgh police union led Mayor Bill Peduto to walk out of a meeting this month to discuss contract terms.
Late this week, both sides were still trading barbs and accusing each other of being unprofessional.
The meeting was held Feb. 9 in the mayor’s conference room and included Mr. Peduto, his chief of staff, Kevin Acklin, and six police union representatives.
The union and city previously tried to negotiate a contract for officers. When they couldn’t agree, they went to binding arbitration. The union, unhappy with the arbitration ruling, filed appeals in Common Pleas and Commonwealth courts, both of which are pending.
Informal talks with the mayor’s office over several months were part of an effort by both sides to come to an agreement outside of court. The latest meeting, however, ended abruptly.
Officer Robert Swartzwelder, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, said the administration and union were discussing a rule that now prohibits officers from earning overtime if they work fewer than 40 hours a week. For example, an officer who takes a vacation day during the week and works three hours over another day in the same week is not eligible for overtime — his total hours don’t add up to 40.
In exchange for eliminating the rule, the city proposed changes to officers’ retirement age, longevity pay and call-out pay, among other things, Officer Swartzwelder said.
Officer Swartzwelder said members of some other city unions already have contract terms that eliminate the 40-hour rule, so the police union didn’t think it was fair for the city to seek concessions for the same treatment.
At one point in the meeting, a union representative asked the mayor whether he wanted to “pay for concrete,” a reference to bike lanes, or “human beings,” Officer Swartzwelder said. After that, the mayor walked out, leaving union representatives to speak with his chief of staff.
Mr. Peduto was traveling Friday afternoon. Mr. Acklin, speaking on the mayor’s behalf, said Mr. Peduto believed the meeting had turned unproductive.
Mr. Acklin said other unions that eliminated the 40-hour rule made concessions in exchange. He said some past meetings with the Pittsburgh police union had been productive, but the Feb. 9 meeting veered off course. He said he thought talk about bike lanes was “irrelevant.”
Timothy McNulty, a spokesman for the city, said much of the funding for bicycle lanes comes from the federal government and from capital spending, which is separate from the money used to pay officers.
Mr. Acklin said the mayor’s office called the meeting “against the advice of our lawyers while we’re in court being sued by the FOP, to resolve some of the open issues that are currently being litigated in court.”
“We’ve shown nothing but good faith from the very beginning. They’ve shown nothing but a willingness to fight,” Mr. Acklin said.
He said he thought the officers “deserve better leadership than what they’re getting out of their FOP.”
Officer Swartzwelder, Mr. Acklin said, “Needs a course in leadership and perhaps one in anger management, as well, with all due respect.”
Officer Swartzwelder said he felt it was “interesting [Mr. Acklin] would make such a childish immature remark” and accused the administration of “threatening to bury us in court” — an accusation the administration denied, saying that the appeals were already in court.
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-163-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Adam Smeltz: 412-263-2625, email@example.com, @asmeltz.
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