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No deal yet in police labor talks

Fire negotiations also are ongoing

Published: Thursday, May 15, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

STERLING – The city and union reps for its police department were unable to reach agreement on a new labor deal during a mediation session Wednesday.

The meeting was originally scheduled as an arbitration session, but the union requested that it be changed to a mediation format.

A mediator presides over a meeting to facilitate negotiations as an unbiased third party, while an arbitrator is entrusted with handing down a decision in the matter. The decision is usually binding for both parties.

The next step in the process is scheduled for early next week, City Manager Scott Shumard said.

“We didn’t reach an agreement today,” he said. “Our attorney is now scheduled to speak with the police union’s negotiator on Tuesday.”

That next step could determine whether an arbitrator will actually be brought in this time. Shumard did not know when the negotiating teams would be back at the table.

“No further dates have been set at this time,” Shumard said.

The city’s contract with its police department expired April 30, 2013. Because the jobs are in the public safety arena, the existing contract is automatically extended until a new labor agreement is reached with the department.

City Manager Scott Shumard said negotiations broke down early in the process last year, leading to the decision to call in a third party.

The city is also still negotiating a new labor pact with its fire union. That deal expired April 30, and also has been automatically extended.

The first negotiating session between the city and the fire union was Feb. 13. A second meeting was held Tuesday, and another is scheduled for this upcoming Tuesday.

Lt. Matt Laughlin, the fire department’s union representative, said he believes some progress was made at their most recent session.

“We’ll do whatever we can to avoid bringing in an arbitrator or mediator,” Laughlin said.

Laughlin believes that both sides are still bargaining in good faith, which he says is cause for hope.

“We understand that the city is trying to work with us on a variety of issues,” Laughlin said. “We’re not blowing each other off; we’re maintaining good communication.”

One area that has required some discussion is bringing the captains into the union. Some contract language had to be modified to bring them into the bargaining unit.

“They were not under city contract and had been ‘at-will’ employees,” Laughlin said. “They are now represented by our local.”

Labor law dictates that “at-will” employees do not have some of the protections afforded by a union contract, especially with regard to termination.

In recent history, Sterling police and fire contracts have been renegotiated every 3 years.

The police and fire departments account for one-third of the city’s full-time staff, Shumard said.

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