Friday, April 28, 2006 | For the second year in a row the San Diego’s police union will likely work without a labor contract, city officials said Thursday. The council is schedule to declare impasse on the issue Monday, meaning police officers’ pay and benefit levels won’t increase, as officers had hoped, or decrease, as the mayor had promised on the campaign trail.

The city’s failure to reach an agreement with the 2,000-member San Diego Police Officers Association strikes a blow to Mayor Jerry Sanders’ initial plan to win money for the cash-strapped government at the bargaining table and shave millions of dollars of the city’s pension deficit. It also further strains the cop group’s already-tense relationship with city leadership.

During last fall’s mayoral campaign, Sanders said he would win savings of at least $50 million a year from the five labor unions by threatening the use of municipal bankruptcy or layoffs, which would put employees’ jobs and pensions at risk.

But Sanders said Thursday that he ultimately didn’t seek any concessions he campaigned on when his staff met with the police union’s negotiators. The mayor said he offered the same pay and benefit levels that are currently imposed on the police officers, and the city will reinstate those same salaries if the council approves them Monday.

Sanders said he did not push ahead with those campaign pledges because his administration is trying to design new retirement and healthcare systems over the next year to solve the city’s payroll woes, which include a $1.4 billion pension deficit and $1 billion funding shortfall in retiree healthcare. Succeeding in those areas would fulfill his campaign promise, he said Thursday.

“We need a comprehensive approach to this problem, not just piecemeal things that look good politically,” Sanders said.

The concessions Sanders said he’d seek on the campaign trail included freezing pay, increasing the retirement age from 50 to 55 for public safety workers, requiring employees to pay more out of their paycheck to the pension plan and for healthcare, eliminating workers’ ability to purchase years of service to boost their future pension checks, and imposing a mandatory work furlough.

Sanders said Thursday that he has “tried to tackle some bigger issues” since taking office: studying and improving the efficiency of city services, which he calls “business process reengineering;” a plan to borrow against the city’s tobacco settlement revenue stream; assembling a budget proposal; and placing on the November ballot propositions that would require future pension benefit hikes to be approved by voters and allow private businesses to compete with municipal workers to perform city services.

“There is so much to do in the city right now, we’ve got to pick the things we can do, but we can’t get every single thing done at the same time,” Sanders said.

When asked if he had threatened municipal bankruptcy, which he referred to as “the hammer” that would force the labor unions to renegotiate their contracts, he said he didn’t think the city was in the position to talk about that option. He said he found the city’s problems to be much more manageable.

The police union’s vice president, Steve McMillan, said that the city’s stance was unreasonable and that an impasse between the two parties seemed likely from that start.

“It was inevitable based on the stance of the mayor,” he said. “The mayor has made this personal.”

When the city and a labor union can’t reach an agreement, the city can unilaterally impose a one-year contract on the union. Police officers were the only union to not reach an accord with the city last year. They had a contract imposed on them in 2002, as well.

McMillan said the city did impose a new concession by taking away officers’ option to take time off after working overtime. Cops will also get the same healthcare allowance as last year while insurance premiums rise, he said.

The police union’s relationship with the city has become increasingly strained over the past year. Several current and former officers have filed lawsuits against the city, alleging that they have been cheated out of $120 million worth of overtime pay throughout the years; the union itself has sued over the city’s practices of underfunding its employee retirement system, which is currently $1.4 billion in deficit.

Earlier this month, the police union started airing television commercials highlighting what they perceived to be a staffing shortfall during the night shift. In English and Spanish, the ad urged viewers to contact Sanders to tell him to raise cops’ pay because officers are leaving the Police Department.

McMillan said that 155 officers have left in the past 10 months, compared to the usual 90 departures every year.

Sanders, the former police chief, has chalked up the police union’s claims to tough times in the city. He also claimed that police officers across the country are leaving their departments.

McMillan said he agreed that rookie hires everywhere are down, but that people are specifically leaving San Diego because of the political turmoil and the visible hard-line attitude Sanders has taken against the city’s labor unions.

“We are not getting new hires, and that’s happening everywhere, but what’s happening is that experienced officers that are treated like crap are going to agencies that respect them and value their commitment to law enforcement,” McMillan said.

At his weekly press briefing Thursday, Council President Scott Peters also criticized Sanders’ handling of the police situation.

“He seems so dismissive of this, I would like for him give more thought and encouragement to the council about how we’re going to deal with recruitment and retention,” Peters said. “It’s a real issue for us.”

The city’s white- and blue-collar unions have contracts extending past this year and are not negotiating new contracts. During the campaign, Sanders pledged to force the unions back for additional concessions above those present in the deals forged last year. However, those unions never came back to the table to talk about further concessions.

The unions representing firefighters and deputy city attorneys are expected to hammer out a new contract by the end of next week, city officials said.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at

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