The city of Vancouver approved a contract with the union representing the top-ranking employees in the police department this week, the culmination of a year’s worth of negotiations.
The document locks in 4 percent annual raises for the members of the Vancouver Command Guild for the next three years, through 2022. It also grants a one-time $1,000 ratification bonus to each of the guild’s members, to be received as a lump sum in the employees’ next paychecks.
The Vancouver Command Guild represents officers in the Vancouver Police Department above the sergeant rank, encompassing lieutenants and commanders.
Bargaining over the new contract started in mid-2019, City Manager Eric Holmes told the city council on Monday, and the broad strokes of the agreement had been agreed upon before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The delay in ratification is because it took several months to translate those terms into contract language that satisfied both parties.
“In the intervening time, we had the onset of the pandemic and the resulting fiscal challenges that the city is experiencing,” Holmes said, referencing the hole blown in the city’s budget due to uncollected tax revenue.
Vancouver’s financial office predicts that drops in sales, utility and property taxes since March could deplete the city’s coffers by at least $30 million and potentially up to $60 million in this year alone, depending on how long closures and restrictions continue.
“As we navigate the financial implications and budget implications of the pandemic, we may need to go back to and engage with all of our collective bargaining units,” Holmes said. “The approach we’ve taken was to honor the good faith bargaining we engaged with at the bargaining table.”
The raises in the most recently ratified contract are steeper than in the guild’s 2017-19 contract, in which members received 3 percent annual raises. The previous contract also did not include a signing bonus.
As of May 21 (the contract’s effective date), the lowest-paid police administrator earned $9,463 a month and the highest-paid earned $12,653 per month. At the end of the contract, salaries will range from $10,235 to $13,686 per month.
Over the next three years, the negotiated increase will cost Vancouver an estimated $443,100.
The city council unanimously ratified the contract as part of its consent agenda Monday evening. Councilor Ty Stober pointed out that the council should be ready to explain the raises, especially as the city is already feeling the squeeze of belt-tightening measures — Vancouver’s Director of Human Resources Lisa Takach was notably absent from the meeting, Holmes said, because she’s on furlough this week.
“We’re talking about approving a contract here that has a sizeable increase in compensation,” Stober said. “I think it’s important that context is given around why we’re doing this, as we’re about to be looking at major budget cuts.”
The wage increases stemmed in part from the raises included in the Vancouver Police Guild’s 2020-22 collective bargaining agreement, which guaranteed its members annual salary bumps ranging from 3 percent to 4 percent depending on their rank and experience level. The Vancouver Police Guild covers recruits, officers, corporals and sergeants.
All ships have to rise as a result, Holmes said, in order to maintain wage separation between ranks. The lowest-paid lieutenant makes at least 22.4 percent more than the highest-paid sergeant, and the lowest-paid commander makes at least 10 percent more than the highest-paid lieutenant.
Holmes added that it was crucial the city honor the terms decided at the bargaining table even if the city’s financial situation has since changed, because barring unforeseen circumstances, the Vancouver Command Guild will stick around longer than COVID-19.
“Both the Command Guild and all of our unions, and the city as the employer, are all committed to long, long, long-term relationships,” Holmes said.
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