DECATUR — Union representatives of Decatur's police officers have extended a counteroffer to one made by the city last week, the newest development in a contentious employment contract battle between the two sides that has lasted nearly three years.
According to Shane Voyles, an attorney for the union, the city proposed giving officers an additional half-percent wage increase in exchange for agreeing to a residency requirement, whereby newly hired officers must live in the city of Decatur for their first five years of employment.
The counteroffer from the police union would make that 0.5 percent pay increase an option for new officers rather than a requirement.
"Those that do not (agree to live in the city), will earn less, saving the city money," Voyles said in an email to the Herald & Review. "If the city is truly concerned about saving money, it should accept that proposal."
City Manager Tim Gleason restarted negotiations late last week, days after a ruling from the general counsel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board settled the grounds of what the city could negotiate with the police union over.
“The city has made yet another formal offer to the union to avoid arbitration on all topics except residency and we remain optimistic that we will come to resolution," Gleason said in a statement. "This was done out of a commitment to the men and women who perform this job 24/7, and to hopefully get officers pay increases that they’ve gone without since 2015."
Decatur officials have successfully negotiated residency requirements with all city employees except police, and it continues to be the primary hurdle in coming to an agreement.
"Residency is something that both the city council and staff feel strongly about," Gleason said. "It is about an opportunity to continue recent efforts to rebuild a Decatur community that is facing some challenges. Today we are asking all city employees to be ambassadors to the residents we serve and we believe that residency even for a short period of time at the beginning of an officer’s career is critical to getting to know the community in which they work. It can help with recruiting from within and give our residents more access to — and allow for the building of relationships with — all of us."
The decision from the general counsel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board, handed down March 26, established that paid time off for officers can be part of negotiations between Decatur officials and the union presenting city law enforcement.
The ruling, which is legally binding, fell in line with the city's position that changes to police holiday pay and compensatory time — a benefit in which officers can choose take time off rather than racking up overtime hours — are issues the two sides must negotiate over by law.
If the newest negotiations do not lead to an agreement, the ILRB general counsel ruling sets the terms to continue arbitration proceedings, which were cut short in November. An arbitrator put a pause in the process in a November hearing when the two sides could not agree on the bargaining terms of the paid-time-off issues.
It's unclear when those proceedings would restart. The two sides have not yet selected a new arbitrator, according to Gleason.
The union, the Decatur Police Benevolent and Protective Association United 39, represents 150 officers and sergeants who have been operating on an expired contact for nearly three years as talks continue.
The Herald & Review in January obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act that showed the two sides have been mired in procedural fights and delays.
Because police can’t strike, state law creates another process for them to follow. The two sides take their case to a neutral third party for what is called “interest arbitration.” The arbitrator sits on a panel that also includes one person representing each side. The panel decides which side will get its way in the new contract, or it can rule that things should stay the same.
The officers' previous contract, which they are continuing to work under until a new one is negotiated, allows them to accumulate up to 80 hours in a year in compensatory time, but they can use the hours at any time and then accumulate more.