The city of Jacksonville and its police union resumed collective bargaining for the first time since November on Tuesday, with the sides starting far apart.
The daylight between labor and management was significant as last year closed.
There’s less daylight after the Wednesday session. The city made an improved offer, one which offers a bigger city match on the defined contribution deal for new hires and gives current employees more money and restored benefits.
But there’s a catch: the city gave the police union 30 days to accept it, or the offer is dead.
Fire union negotiations are slated for later this afternoon; a reasonable expectation is that similar terms will be offered.
To move negotiations into a different posture, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was in attendance with opening remarks at a meeting that saw the parking lot of the Fraternal Order of Police building full even half an hour before the 10 a.m. negotiating session commenced.
Curry offered opening remarks; his chief lieutenants, CFO Mike Weinstein and CAO Sam Mousa, stayed behind, along with the general counsel, Jason Gabriel.
In those opening remarks, Curry outlined a considerably enhanced package of defined contribution benefits for new hires, with a city match of 25 percent approaching the FRS mandated contribution of 29 percent.
The plan would be vested in five years for new hires.
Police union head Steve Zona noted that the union worked with the mayor “in the trenches” to sell the pension reform referendum option, with Zona saying the union thought the mayor understood that public safety merited compensation.
“All the time, the Florida Retirement System was on the table,” Zona said, before showing a video with Curry saying “I’m going to honor the agreements we have” and that 401K plans for police forces in the state “would not work for officers.”
A second video saw Curry say “if you want to attract the best, you have to be competitive” and that “pension plans” are necessary.
“The public doesn’t understand what I’ve said because a mayor has never said it,” Curry said in the video, vowing to “try to educate in meetings and conversations.”
Zona said, then, “you said you’d be willing to stand alone and educate the public, and that hasn’t been done.”
“Put FRS on the table,” Zona said, “and let’s get the deal done.”
Zona then cited Florida Politics quoting the mayor as saying a 401k plan would “set the stage” for 401K discussions beyond Jacksonville.
Curry then offered remarks, noting investments in human and physical capital in his first two budgets.
Then Curry floated a new offer: a 3 percent bonus, a 20 percent pay hike in three years, and full restoration of all benefits taken away from officers in 2015, including an 8.4 percent “return on DROP guaranteed” and a 3 percent COLA.
Curry then noted that his comments in 2015 were intended to address the issues for current officers, not new hires.
“A defined contribution plan that looks like nothing anyone has ever seen for new hires,” Curry said, with a 25 percent city investment from day 1, and a fully vested plan within five years.
That plan would have the same disability and death benefit that the current plan has.
“This is a rich plan that will attract and retain people.”
“Since I’ve been in office,” Curry said, “I’ve put my money where my mouth is.”
Zona endorsed the wage proposal and the benefit restoration pitch, saying though that the “new hires” is a different matter.
“When it’s you mayor, or another mayor attacking the benefits of new hires, you watch the attrition rates go through the roof,” Zona said.
Curry noted that statute requires collective bargaining every three years, and that even a defined benefit plan has attendant risk.
“This is not a 401k as would be defined in the private sector,” Curry reiterated of his plan. “It is rich. It will work.”
Curry noted that FRS would be even more expensive, with a 29 percent city match, and a lack of local control.
“I like local control,” Curry said to media after he left the room for a gaggle.
Notable: Curry’s plan, with restoration of pre-2015 benefits for current employees, would reverse a great deal of the 2015 pension reform.
Nine percent of the FRS hit, Mousa said later, was unfunded liability.
“We’re far exceeding FRS,” Mousa said.
Negotiations resumed shortly before 11 a.m.
General Counsel Jason Gabriel, when asked about the 2015 deal, cautioned that it wasn’t a seven-year deal.
“There was provision for a waiver of unilaterally altering benefits for seven years,” Gabriel said, but that didn’t supersede state statute requiring terms not exceeding three years.
“The seven years is something that we need to be careful when we discuss that,” Gabriel said. “The collective bargaining agreement needs to be for a term of three years.”
Police negotiators sought a 20 year guarantee for men and women on the current force.
The city presented written proposals for police and corrections, and for judicial officers and bailiffs.
The police proposal was the 3 percent lump sum hike and the 20 percent raise phased in over three years, with DROP return guaranteed at 8.4 percent and a 3 percent COLA bump.
Judicial officers and bailiffs got the same 3 percent lump sum bump, and a 14 percent pay raise phased in over three years for judicial officers, and a 12 percent hike for bailiffs.
All new employee groups would have fully-vested defined contribution plans, via a 25 percent city contribution.
The proposal would supersede all previous agreements, a city negotiator said.
Zona noted that a provision of the deal is that, if the sales surtax is overturned, the city won’t have the money to deliver.
CFO Weinstein noted that “if one piece of the puzzle falls out, we have to revisit” the pension deal.
The surtax is needed to fund the plan; the city sees it as “highly unlikely” that the surtax would be overturned.
The impact would be a re-opening of the wage discussions.
Zona saw the escape clause as an “out for the city,” and the couple of hundred officers in the crowd stirred as the city again tried to reiterate its position.
“If it’s that unlikely it’s going to occur,” Zona said, the city needs to “shoulder risk” and insert a clause guaranteeing the city commitment to officers for 20 years.
CAO Mousa noted that the city has to redo actuarial studies, among other “significant work,” before Oct. 1 to “take advantage of the process” and access the revenue stream.
“If there are any delays that keep us from getting to council in time, we’ll have to wait a whole another year,” Mousa said, noting that legislation needs to pass.
Zona noted that a 30 day time frame may not be tantamount to “bargaining in good faith.”
“That may be some sort of violation of collective bargaining,” Zona noted.
Mousa pushed back, saying the union knows “exactly what the numbers are and where they lay.”
After another caucus, Mousa reiterated the city position: “nothing other than wages” would be required to be re-negotiated if the sales tax fell through.
“It’s our problem to afford it,” Mousa said,
The city again stressed the urgency of meeting the thirty day time frame.
Zona contended that the cost of the proposed plan is very close to that of FRS, especially with a Social Security contribution added.
“We wouldn’t have made an offer today,” Mousa said, “if we couldn’t afford it … if it wasn’t fair and reasonable … to the taxpayers.”
Zona produced another video toward the end of the meeting, where Curry said the media “demonized” the police union as “fat cats.”
Then another video, where Curry said Mayor Brown “has failed to deal with the pension in a serious way.”
Curry, in the video, said that he wouldn’t “tolerate” police being attacked in the press.
“We showed the videos for a reason … our members haven’t seen those videos. The public hasn’t seen those videos,” Zona said.
“Everybody needed to see those videos so people would understand why we’re taking the position we’re taking. We’re told one thing by the mayor,” Zona said, yet “information was not shared with us,” even as the union helped to sell the pension reform referendum of 2016.
“Where’s the data? What’s the reasoning to change your mind?”
Zona’s question was rhetorical.
But the conflict wasn’t.
For his part, Mousa said “it’s going to take a lot more than these videos to embarrass the mayor.”
Mousa reiterated the “time and effort” put in the mayor’s plan, adding that more formal actuarial studies are needed to come up with a shared set of assumptions.
“If we don’t come to an agreement, we won’t have final actuaries,” Mousa added.
Both sides want to “get out of the risk business,” Zona said.
But the problem isn’t the destination, but the conveyance.