Raises In Store For Some Peoria City Workers

Originally posted Jul 15, 2013

By Jackee Coe
The Republic | azcentral.com Mon
Jul 1, 2013 9:48 AM

Many Peoria employees will get raises for the second year in a row, but police officers, firefighters and other union employees still are negotiating their salaries for the coming years.

All non-represented employees will receive a 3.5 percent raise, though the increase cannot push those at or near the top of their pay grade over the maximum, Human Resources Director Julie Ayers said. Police sergeants in the City of Peoria Police Supervisors Association also will receive an average of a 3.5 percent performance-based pay increase.

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Last year, employees received 5 percent merit raises at the start of the fiscal year, except those who already were at the top of their pay grade and instead received an $850 lump-sum payment. It was the first year raises were given since the city implemented a pay freeze in fiscal 2010.

Mayor Bob Barrett said the fact that Peoria is giving raises for a second straight year indicates the city is doing “reasonably well” financially.

“We’ve managed our money very well,” he said. “It’s careful money management, and with careful money management, we are at the point now where we can give raises and I’m very proud of that, personally.”

But Barrett warned that doesn’t mean everybody is “coming out of the economic doldrums” just yet. The economy is recovering, he said, but slowly. He said while Peoria is able to give its employees raises, there still are many amenities, such as new parks, that residents should not expect to see in the near future.

Peoria stands in contrast to neighboring Glendale, which still has not bounced back enough from the recession to offer raises to non-union employees. However, many cities are beginning to bring them back, including Surprise and Buckeye, which will give as much as 14 percent this coming year.

“Investing in our employees is a wise thing to do,” Barrett said. “They have been doing wonderful stuff.”

The non-represented employees make up about 35 percent of the city’s 1,100 total full-time employees. There are 147 police officers in the Peoria Police Officers Association, 135 firefighters in the Peoria Firefighters Association, 413 employees in the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, and 26 in the sergeants group.

The memorandums of understanding with each union expire at the end of this month, and representatives have been negotiating with city officials for several months.

The sergeants group reached a deal that was approved by the City Council in April. The four-year agreement maintains the existing salary step program, which averages about 3.5 percent increases, and performance-based pay for those at the top of their pay range.

The contract also included an up-front payment of $1,000 to each member for being the first union to reach a deal, and a $1,500 one-time payment in the fourth year. The second payment is an acknowledgment of the group agreeing to a four-year term, the first under a revised city ordinance, Ayers said.

The four-year agreement with the small group of sergeants will cost $137,023 in ongoing costs, as well as $168,247 in one-time payments.

City ordinance prohibits officials from discussing the labor negotiations while they are in progress.

Firefighters and police officers showed up in force to last week’s council meeting when council members voted to provide $350,000 in aid to the struggling Theater Works organization that operates in the city-owned Peoria Center for the Performing Arts.

Michael Williams, who represents the police officers association, said council members and city officials should remember they still have incomplete labor negotiations with the police officers and firefighters and not to neglect their duty to properly compensate public safety while funding other services like the arts.

“You have a duty to provide for the public safety, and I hope as you’re approving these extra expenditures, you will consider the fact we still have two contracts out there that have not been resolved and they need to be resolved,” Williams told the council. “Public safety is more important than all the other things that you all provide.”

David Leibowitz, a spokesman for the Peoria Firefighters Association, said the labor negotiations with firefighters are not going well.

‘Creative’ compensation

While non-represented employees endured a pay freeze between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2012, Peoria was “creative” in working out agreements with the unions who were under their contracts, Human Resources Director Julie Ayers said.

The Peoria Firefighters Association was the only group to get a raise in fiscal 2010 at 5 percent, but it was funded by a reduction in their uniform allowance, adjustments to vacation time and reduced contributions to a deferred compensation plan.

Nobody received raises or any payments the following year. But in fiscal 2012, members of all four groups got variations of lump-sum payments that totaled between $850 and $900. The non-represented employees, excluding managers and directors, were given three floating holidays that year.

“What makes Peoria stand out is they went through the downturn without doing work furloughs and without doing layoffs and wage reductions, which you see in a lot of other communities in the state,” Ayers said. “It wasn’t cookie cutter. They really did try to customize and meet the needs of everyone coming through the recession.”