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Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 10:12 am

Cops win residency fight

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, arbitrator says

Click here to download a copy of the arbitrators' decision.


Freshly arrived in our mailbox this morning is a copy of arbitrators’ decision in labor negotiations between the union representing city police officers and the city. And it appears to be a defeat for Mayor Jim Langfelder.

The city has known for weeks that it would lose the question of residency, which Langfelder made a cornerstone of his mayoral campaign two years ago. While the city prevailed on economic issues, the union won two out of three points, convincing arbitrators that there should be no residency requirement for police officers and that the city’s current policy of sick time sellback, which allows officers who don’t call in sick to collect checks for unused sick time, should remain in place.

The decision on residency and other matters was, essentially, in the hands of Marvin Hill, given that Hill, a fulltime arbitrator who holds a law degree, was the sole neutral person on the three-member panel. And Hill said, quoting from a decision in a prior case pitting Wheaton against that city’s firefighters’ union, that if it isn’t broken, it need not be fixed.

“This arbitrator has made clear his position on multiple occasions that the party seeking to depart from the status quo must show more than that change is a ‘good idea,’” the Wheaton arbitrator wrote in his decision quoted in Hill’s ruling that denies Springfield the right to require police officers hired in the future to live within city limits. “The moving party must show that the current conditions are ‘broken’ somehow.”

Forty percent of city police officers live outside Springfield city limits. Of the 92 officers who don’t live in Springfield, 40 live in nearby towns, including Rochester, Glenarm, Chatham, Mechanicsburg, Riverton and Pleasant Plains, or in homes close enough to the city that they have Springfield addresses or live in, according to a dissent by Roger Holmes, whom the city chose to serve on the arbitration panel.

The failed residency requirement would have grandfathered officers who don’t currently live in the city so that they would not have to move. Holmes wrote that not instituting a residency requirement for new employees is “not in the best interest and welfare of the public.” Holmes also noted that 20 of the 22 collective bargaining units covering city employees have agreed to a residency requirement.

The union argued that residency was a political issue pushed by Langfelder and Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin, and the union also noted that Illinois Times in 2012 published an article written by Joshua Witkowski, a City Water, Light and Power employee who has been active in political campaigns, opposing a residency requirement – while the decision states that the newspaper opposed residency, the column, in fact, was an opinion piece, with Witkowski writing as a guest columnist. According to the arbitration decision, police officers were concerned about safety if they were forced to live in the same city that they patrolled. The union, according to the decision, also argued that police officers don’t want their children to attend Springfield School District 186 schools.

The union lost on the question of raises. The difference between the city’s position and the union’s stance amounted to $961,000 over a three-year period, according to the arbitration decision, with the union asking for a 7.5 percent wage hike over the three years and the city countering with a 5 percent offer. On sick time, the union prevailed in its fight to allow officers to sell back 80 hours of sick time each year to the city. The city had asked to reduce that amount to 48 hours. According to the arbitration decision, police officers this year are on target to sell back $280,000 worth of sick time.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

 

 

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