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Wauwatosa, police agree on 3-year contract

Officers pay jumps 3%, but take-home pay to tumble

Jan. 18, 2012

After 16 months of bargaining, the city and Wauwatosa police union have reached a three-year agreement.

The contract, ratified by the Common Council on Tuesday, provides 3 percent wage increases this year and next for the 75 members of the Wauwatosa Peace Officers Association. However, it also increases health insurance premium contributions and adds a pension contribution for the first time.

Net take-home pay will drop in 2012 and '13, union President Luke Vetter said, adding that health care deductibles, co-insurance payments and premiums went up.

"Given the economic and political climate, it is probably as good of a deal as we could expect," he said. "My hope is that when economic times get better in Wauwatosa, the council and mayor would be kind enough to share that good fortune with its employees."

Gross starting pay for an officer was $46,067.84 per year in 2010 and would go to $47,449.88 in 2012. The top step in the salary scale of $64,743.54 in 2010 goes to $66,685.85 in 2012 for base pay.

The majority of police union members will pay 5 percent toward their health insurance premium, up from about 3 percent, because they participate in the city's wellness program. Those members who don't participate will contribute 10 percent. Those numbers jump to 10 percent for wellness participants and 20 percent for everyone else in 2013.

As far as health insurance in retirement, union employees hired after January 1992, but before 2008, will be required to pay 5 percent of their monthly premiums in retirement, according to the tentative agreement. Employees hired prior to that date won't have to pay, while those hired after 2008 will be expected to pay half the premium cost in retirement.

The contract also addresses pension contributions, which all employees besides police and fire have been required to pay following the state Budget Repair Bill.

This year, police union employees will pay 3 percent of their salary toward pensions. Next year, the payments will increase to half the actuarial average contribution, which for all other employees has been 5.9 percent, a rate which is calculated annually. The fire union and fire supervisors agreed to the same pension contributions when its union contract was ratified in November.

State law requires that supervisors pay the same pension contribution that was negotiated for the union. The council has also approved changes to police supervisors' health insurance contributions and wage increases to mirror the employees they oversee.

By the end of the contract the benefits for police and fire employees will be aligned with all other city workers, paying the same amount toward health insurance and pension, Human Resources Director Beth Aldana said in an interview.

"The settlement allows the parties to have certainty on key economic issues and move forward together," she said.

The fire and police unions' contracts are similar and it was the ability to come to agreement with the fire union that helped along the police union negotiations, Aldana said.

The contract actually covers 2011 through 2013. The police union's last contract expired at the end of 2010 and negotiations have had their ups and downs. There was no increase for the 2011 year as contracts stalled amid the change and uncertainty at the state level.

"It was a roller coaster ride that whole time," Vetter agreed.

He points to the ability for each member to take two more days off per year by 2013 as a win for the officers.

"Cops value time off since we work holidays and overtime," Vetter said.

Bargaining started in fall 2010, but there were breaks as both sides sorted out the impacts of the state budget bills.

"We reached impasse some time ago, mediated thereafter, but didn't settle," Aldana said. "We were set to schedule an arbitration hearing, but after fire (union) settled we resume discussions one more time."

There's still question on the union's side as to the legality of the city to make changes on behalf of all employees on health plans - deductibles, co-insurance and co-payments - without bargaining. The new contract includes a clause allowing parties to re-open negotiations on health plan issues of if courts conclude union has right to negotiate these issues.

It will likely take a ruling of the state Supreme Court to decide that issue; several cities - Eau Claire, Green Bay and Milwaukee - have lawsuits in progress. It won't be Wauwatosa that provides the court case, but city leaders and employees will be watching for the results, City Administrator James Archambo said.

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