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Burton Command gets pay increases, pension relief, early retirement option

Posted by: Jennifer Gomori Posted date: May 1, 2019


— By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor

Burton Command Officers were in the same position as the City Patrol Officers, working to pay off someone else’s pensions. Their decision to unanimously vote in POLC as their new labor union over a year ago has paid off for both groups.

The 11-member Command group replaced their old representation through Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM) while Patrol parted ways with the COAM’s sister union Patrol Officers Association of Michigan (POAM). Both groups chose representation with POLC in the summer of 2017. Through the hard work of POLC Labor Reps Hal Telling, who represents Command, and Chris Watts, representing Patrol, they were able to produce the results they so badly needed by the time their contracts were up for renewal in the summer of 2018.

“Our feeling with the POAM is we just didn’t get much attention with them. The only time we heard from them was at contract time and it just didn’t seem we were that important,” said Sgt. John Owens, local union steward.

“Some of the guys here were aware of Hal and Chris because they had a connection to the Flint area though their past employment with police departments. Everybody that worked here spoke highly of Hal and Chris and Lloyd (Whetsone, POLC Membership Services),” Owens said.

Their first POLC-bargained contract, effective July 1, 2018, not only brought with it immediate raises, but a way to deal with the underfunded pension. They received 5% wage increases the first two years of the contract followed by a wage re-opener in the third year. Command also saw the distance between pay increases to reach the top of the pay scale slashed in half, as did Patrol. Now the pay scale tops out after 5 years instead of 10. “We got it all up front, so it was a nice chunk of change,” Sgt. Owens said.

The POLC worked with the City to solve the pension crisis by bridging the pension down from 2.5% Defined Benefit (DB) multiplier to 1.5%. Employees were able to finally get ahead of the pension paybacks which prevented them from receiving pay increases. “The pensions have been a hot topic around here for years. When the City set up the pension, they set it up incorrectly. Younger officers would help pay for a pension we didn’t get a benefit from,” Owens said. “We were essentially paying for pension benefits we would never receive. They basically set it up with no money in it and allowed people to retire out of it.”

“Because it was underfunded, they kept coming to the Employee for more and more money. I think the highest we got was up to 27 percent of our paycheck,” Owens said. “When I started here we paid nothing (into the pensions). Then it went up to 2 percent, 5 percent, then up and up. We locked into a percentage we pay. If their costs continue to rise, that’s on the City now instead of the Employee. It’s nice to have that behind us.”

The total amount Employees could be responsible for is now 10 percent.

“(POAM and the City) just put a line in the contract, anything above a certain percentage we would pay for (those pension costs),” Owens said. “But they had much better benefits. Our portion of the pension was 100 percent funded, but theirs was a 30% credit. They got to keep the old Defined Contribution money and retired out of MERS and got two pensions.”

Under their new contract, Command Officers can retire a lot sooner. Once they reach 25 years of service, existing Employees no longer must be at least 55 years old for full retirement. New hires after July 1, 2018 will have the 55-year age requirement, but they will enter City employment with much better pay and benefits than their predecessors.

“Part of the solution is the City is opening Defined Contribution for existing Employees and the City put in 3 percent per year to help make up for bridge down,” Telling said. “We did a 5-year contract instead of a four-year contract. Our stipends into the Defined Contribution were slightly more (than Patrol).”

The City is giving Command primer payments the first four years of the five-year contract, which expires June 30, 2023. Command staff will receive $1,500 in years one and two, followed by $1,000 annual payments in years three and four.

“Command gets another couple cherries on top,” Watts said of their contract, which also includes two additional paid vacation days annually and longer wage and DC re-openers.

“We can negotiate with them about putting more money in the third through fifth years,” Telling said.

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