PBA and City agree to come back to the negotiating table after arbitration hearing is cut short

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The City of Tallahassee and the Big Bend Police Benevolent Association could be close to an agreement on contracts after months of back and forth.

The two were in an arbitration hearing on Tuesday when the PBA brought forward a new offer that the City is willing to consider.

The current contract expired in October; the groups have been negotiating since then, but declared an impasse. Mediation meetings in March were not successful, and they met in a virtual hearing this week. Billboards by the PBA about safety in the City went up last week.

In the hearing, a presentation by the City of Tallahassee took just about an hour, during which attorneys argued it would be inequitable to give police a pay raise in FY21 after other City employees, most not represented by unions, did not receive a pay raise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We greatly appreciate the work of our police officers,” said the City’s representation. “We’re certainly willing to look at wage increases in FY22 and 23.”

After the City’s opening argument, the PBA put a new offer on the table; it was the first time the City had seen the document.

“There’s um, a couple articles in the materials, but I don’t think this is in it?” questioned one City representative.

“No, we’re just presenting it to you at this time,” said the PBA.

After that contract offer was shown, the PBA began to make its case.

An economist gave a presentation for almost two hours, reviewing the trends and forecasts of the US economy and the state and regional economies. He also gave an economic overview of Tallahassee, the financial position of Tallahassee, and a wage analysis of police. His testimony implied that the City was not in a financially dire state due to the pandemic, and that it could afford to give pay raises.

After an hour-long break, the hearing reconvened at 2:15.

Tallahassee Police Department Deputy Chief Jason Laursen was called as a witness, testifying about staffing numbers and holding 911 calls.

During a pause in his testimony, the magistrate presiding over the hearing pointed out that the two sides might have an acceptable agreement in front of them.

“How does the PBA’s revised and newst offer effect the issue today?” he asked.

The newest offer has no pay increases in the first year of the contract, which was one of the major sticking points for the City.

With no increases across the board in year one, the proposed contract has a two percent increase in year two and a 1.5 percent increase in year three.

“The PBA’s offer is that there is one step increase in the second year of the contract and one step increase in the third year of the contract, or a three percent base salary increase,” said PBA representation.

City representation agreed that the new offer was worth considering.

“The consensus is we should recess for today,” said the arbitrator after hearing from both sides. “We can put something down on the calendar again, but it may not be necessary.”

The groups will now come back to the table for negotiations; they will still have to agree on the terms for other years of the contract. However, at least for now, there is a possibility of the two groups working out the issue between them, rather than needing to utilize an independent arbitrator.

If the two cannot agree, they will come back at 9 a.m. on May 26.

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