The Stockton Police Officers Association overwhelmingly rejected a nearly $40 million budget increase during contract negotiations with the city that have now extended past the June 30 deadline.
About 80 percent of the association’s membership, which consists of the Stockton Police Department’s rank and file officers and sergeants, voted to turn down the city’s offer at the end of last month, Newly-minted SPOA President Patrick High said.
The previous three-year contract expired July 1.
“Often the other side makes the assumption everybody’s bargaining for their own interests,” High said. “But to actually have a sizable number of the membership tell the negotiators both on their side and the city side their feelings towards the contract, I think is going to be encouraging to the city to maybe reconsider some of the things that they weren’t able to before.”
The city and SPOA have been involved in contract negotiations since the beginning of the year and have yet been able to come to an agreement, though Stockton City Manager Harry Black says that six to seven months is not an usual time frame for the negotiation process.
Three other Stockton public safety unions — Stockton Police Management Association (SPMA), Stockton Firefighters’ Local 456 Fire Unit and Stockton Firefighters’ Local 456 Fire Management — have reached agreements with the city, Black said, which will go before the City Council for approval Tuesday evening on its consent agenda.
Another meeting between the city and the SPOA is scheduled for July 20.
“We’re basically going back to the drawing board, so to speak,” High said.
What the city offered
Black described the city’s contract offer as “the most generous” in its history.
The proposed contract would consist of a $39.5 million budget increase over the next three years, which includes an overall 6% increase in contributions to health care costs, 16% cost of living adjustment and a one-time $5,000 bonus.
If passed, the new contract would run through 2025 and more than double the $14 million increase that was provided by the city’s most recent contract with the SPOA.
“SPOA came back to us to provide our best and final offer and that’s what we did. And that’s what is on the table,” Black said. “You can see the jump is significant, and it’s intentional.”
The increase will be a financial stresser for the city, but also a worthy and manageable risk, he said.
Why the offer was rejected
Both city and police officials have acknowledged the Stockton Police Department has had trouble maintaining its staffing levels and committed to solving the problem.
But SPOA said on its Facebook page last month that “the city’s offer will do absolutely nothing to attract or retain officers in one of the busiest cities in California.”
The Stockton Police Department currently employs 393 sworn officers, though it’s considered fully staffed at 485, Department Spokesman Joe Silva said.
One of the main issues cited for officers leaving the department is pay. SPOA says that department salaries are currently 34% less than comparable cities, though Black disputes the number.
A salary survey of police departments in 15 to 20 cities, all varying in size, demographics and geography was conducted earlier in the negotiations process, Black said. The survey found that Stockton police officers were being paid 20% below the market average.
However, SPOA Vice President Jeremiah Skaggs explains the city is basing that number off what these departments’ salaries were as of January. Many have since approved new contracts with their respective cities, and the SPOA’s numbers are current as of June, he said.
“We’re hoping that once we reach a fair contract it will heal our retention issues,” Skaggs said.
Black says, no matter what number is used, the city’s offer reduces the pay gap by either 75% or more than 50%. Stockton police officers were already paid at a market disparity before the financial crisis, he said, which in turn only got worse after the city declared bankruptcy.
And it will take more than one cycle to fully correct, Black said.
The SPOA understands that the city’s job is to make sure that Stockton doesn’t fall into the same trap it did during the early 2000s before declaring bankruptcy.
“We want to be a partner in making sure that doesn’t happen, while also making sure that the officers are compensated for what is a very complex job, especially today,” High said.
But High also says that recruiting and keeping officers is more than about overall pay
“Our contract is still being built back from the bankruptcy days where a lot of incentives to work for Stockton disappeared, and we’ve not gotten those back,” High said.
Some incentives High cited included pay reflecting specialized positions, such as detective, and altering some workplace conditions to boost morale.
Both sides want an amicable solution
High said SPOA was grateful for the percentage increase that was offered, noting that it wasn’t too far off from an agreeable number, and said he is still hopeful that a collaborative agreement with the city is on the horizon.
“We don’t want to make it seem like this is adversarial or that we’re being hostile in any way or that they are to us,” High said. “I think we have an open dialogue. It’s just a matter of getting a couple of points to get us over that goal line to get this contract signed and then stop the bleeding of officers.”
Black shared the sentiment.
“We have and continue to operate in good faith and are committed to ultimately reducing the pay gap,” Black said. “This particular contract will go along to getting us very, very close.”