Police union demands double-digit pay hike

Fort Lauderdale, FL police officers want more than twice the pay raises the city is offering, officials revealed in contract negotiations Wednesday. Sgt. Mike Tucker, a union representative, had declined at a rally Tuesday night to say how much officers were seeking in pay raises. But at a public meeting for contract negotiations Wednesday morning, the details of the debate came out:

The city is offering police 5 percent raises for each year of the contract, but only if the union agrees to give up the existing city pension system for new employees, sending incoming officers to the Florida Retirement System.

On the other side, the police officers want 10.5 percent pay raises each of the three years, as well as a cost of living increase every year for retired officers, and no switch to a state pension program.

At Wednesday's face-off, neither side budged. "The problem," said Fraternal Order of Police local President Jack Lokeinsky, a Fort Lauderdale officer, "is that the pledge you put on the table puts us in the middle" compared to other area law enforcement agencies. "Our officers deserve to be more than in the middle."

In an interview after the meeting, Lokeinsky gave the reasoning behind the raise request. "The [city] manager got a 21 percent increase over 2 years. So we asked for the same thing he got."

City Manager George Gretsas' salary increased from $180,000 in 2004 to $219,000 two years later, a 21.7 percent increase.

More than 200 officers protested outside City Hall on Tuesday night that the department is losing employees because of low pay and pensions, compared to other local agencies.

City officials countered, saying that crime is down, and that the contract must be fair not just to officers, but to taxpayers.

Talks between the two sides have dragged on for months.

The contract expired at the end of September. Meanwhile, the city came to terms with its largest union, the general employees.

The general employees agreed to give up a government pension for new workers. They'll have a 401(k) plan instead, with the city contributing an amount equal to 9 percent of each employee's salary each year.

Fort Lauderdale's officers pay 7 percent of their salary into the pension investment fund, but the city's portion is much higher: 49 percent. Then when officers retire, they can receive a maximum of 81 percent of their salary as a retirement benefit until they die.

But Wednesday, Lokeinsky told the city's negotiators, including police Chief Bruce Roberts, that abandoning the city pension system isn't the answer.

"If someone has some idea to fix the plan, we're willing to consider it," said Pete Sampo, the labor attorney representing the city.

The pension board will discuss the issues its meeting Wednesday.


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