Assistant Township Administrator Lisa Brown said the talks that began in September hit an impasse once.
“We did end up going to mediation but sometimes you just need that neutral third party in the room to help you kind of talk through what you’re stuck on,” Brown said. “We feel good with the agreement, that it’s really beneficial to both sides of the table.”
Not too long ago, the two sides locked horns and the contract negotiation was forced into conciliation. Because police cannot strike, when contract talks reach an impasse and a fact-finder’s recommendations aren’t agreed upon, the contract goes to a conciliator for the final decision. That happened in 2017.
Township Administrator Larry Burks told the Journal-News they have become adept at working with the unions “just talking about what their major needs are, what they’re really focused on, what are their hot button items.”
“We’re seeing the dividends, this is something we’ve been working on for three years,” Burks said. “You’re starting to see the last couple contracts even though we had to get a mediator, the mediator worked very quickly because everyone was in tune with what the others were expecting.”
The FOP also will receive $1,000 lump sum payments annually that is not added to the base salary and annual step increases based on merit. The pay range in the first year for officers from rookie to the top range on the six-step scale — based on years of service and experience — is $68,177 to $88,454, in annual increments of around $4,000. The range on the two-step scale — based on the timing of promotions — for supervisors is $97,299 to $101,722 for sergeants and $111,894 to $116,980 for lieutenants.
Police Chief Joel Herzog said he is also pleased with the new deal.
“We have to pay a level to maintain that level of professionalism that we want,” Herzog said. “West Chester is not looking to be the highest paid nor could we be, but we definitely want to be attractive and maintain our ability to retain and recruit officers and I think we got that with this contract.”
Police agencies everywhere have had a hard time hiring — and retaining officers — in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the height of pandemic in May 2020. Former Minneapolis police officer Derick Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes killing him. Chauvin was found guilty of murder after a 10-hour jury deliberation a year later. That incident sparked nationwide protests and sent people fleeing the profession in droves.
Herzog said he is currently down about four officers but they have still been able to recruit new and “lateral transfers” from other departments so “I think we’re still a destination department.” But after a big hiring in the 1990s they have people nearing retirement they must replace, so this contract was crucial.
The contract also reflects a change in the township’s health insurance benefits, the FOP is the first union to agree to the elimination of the top tier Platinum plan and as a result the township is saving about $103,000. The plan is no longer available for non-union employees so overall the township is saving about $200,000 with that decision.
Trustee Ann Becker praised the FOP for agreeing to the concession.
“We got some great concessions on our health care which is going to save the township hundreds of thousands of dollars through that contract,” she said. “We have several unions in the township and our FOP is one of the leader unions. What our FOP does in their contract a lot of our other unions will take note of that and will help us in those money saving efforts.”
The township’s fire union contract is up next year, but the two sides are wrangling in a civil lawsuit in Butler County Common Pleas Court over “traveling lieutenants.” The township sued its fire union, asking the court to uphold a state arbitrator’s decision allowing them to hire three traveling lieutenants to save about $230,000 in overtime and stop continued “moot grievance” filings.
The arbitrator said the township has the right to hire whomever they want, but the union insists the township had a duty to bargain the effects on their contract.
Burks said this about the impending fire contract negotiation and bargaining in general.
“We’ll continue to work with the fire department, the union leadership and we’ll continue to overcome the barriers that pop up between us. It’s a battle of wits sometimes and will but we always seem to come to an agreement in the end,” Burks said. “I don’t think either side is really happy with it but we’re usually satisfied with the results. It’s never exactly what you want but it’s typically, usually what both sides really need.”