Politics & Government

City of Wichita, police union settle quickly on new contract

A three-year contract between the city of Wichita and the police union was approved this week by the City Council.
A three-year contract between the city of Wichita and the police union was approved this week by the City Council. File photo

A police union contract approved this week by the Wichita City Council will provide pay increases of 9 to 10 percent for eligible officers over the three-year life of the deal, the union president said.

Cost of the pay increases for 2015 is expected to be a little more than $1.3 million, according to a city document.

On a 6-0 vote Tuesday, the council approved the agreement that was reached after both sides moved through the process much faster and in smoother fashion than in the past.

The contract starts off with a freeze on merit pay increases in 2015. But officers will be eligible for 2.5 percent merit raises in each of the next two years, according to the contract.

There will be cost-of-living raises for each of the three years: 3 percent in 2015, 1.25 percent in 2016 and 1.5 percent in 2017.

For those who also get merit increases each year, that works out to a 9 to 10 percent pay raise over the three years, union president Paul Zamorano said.

“We’re pleased with the contract,” he said.

Both sides were satisfied with the negotiating process that resulted in a deal being reached after meeting only four or five times this fall.

It took about two years to finalize the previous three-year deal. An impasse was declared in those negotiations, and a mediator had to be brought in to resolve the issues.

But this time both sides agreed to try a process called interest-based bargaining in hopes of improving on the traditional sparring.

“In my 18 years with the department,” Zamorano said, “I think this is the first one we’ve finished on time.”

City Manager Robert Layton said, “It was a good process. I’m very pleased with it.”

Labor experts say interest-based bargaining takes a different tact: Instead of issuing demands and counter-demands, the sides begin with a statement of their interests and objectives. Parties collect information jointly, analyze where money is being spent contractually and aim for a climate of trust and mutual respect.

For the first time in a decade, the teachers union and Wichita district leaders used that approach in amicably agreeing to a contract last spring.

The city and the police union tried to use a modified version of interest-based bargaining at the tail end of negotiating the previous contract, Layton said.

“But this time we decided to start off with it,” he said. “We started by talking more about specific concerns that each side had and then brainstormed through ways of addressing those instead of exchanging hard, rigid positions.”

They kept it simple: They set up a large easel and used markers to write down those concerns.

“We just got it done,” Zamorano said.

The contract takes effect Dec. 20 and runs through Dec. 16, 2017. The union members ratified the agreement last week.

The union represents all 490 members of the police department who hold a rank below lieutenant, plus crime scene investigators.

The contract is a “favorable one for all sides,” City Council member James Clendenin said before voting to approve the agreement. “The negotiating process has been pretty contentious in the past.

“This was good negotiations on both sides.”

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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