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Tuesday, Sep 25 2012 05:57 PM

Police union advertises -- in a big way -- its discontent with city

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    The Bakersfield Police Officers Association placed a billboard on Rosedale Highway to express their frustration over contract negotiations with the city.

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BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

The Bakersfield police officers union has thrown another jab in its ongoing rumble with the city over long-unresolved pay issues by erecting almost a dozen billboards around Bakersfield.

The largest is on Rosedale Highway near Mohawk Street. Like the rest, it says "19% Salary Increases for City Management. 0% for police" with the word "UNFAIR!" stamped in red over a picture of City Hall North.

Another 10 smaller signs are sprinkled around the city, at Highway 99 and Olive Drive, Highway 99 and White Lane, Brundage Lane and Wible Road and elsewhere, said Detective Todd Dickson, president of the Bakersfield Police Officers Association. The signs went up last week.

The reference is to BPOA's demand for 12 percent pay increases going forward and paid retroactively. City Manager Alan Tandy and Councilman Ken Weir have said the increases BPOA is looking for are unaffordable for the city.

Police officers have been without a contract since 2007 and, the union says, they've fallen 12 percent behind pay increases other city employees have gotten over the last four years. The 19 percent stamped on the billboard is that 12 percent plus a 7 percent pay increase that went to two department directors recently.

Last December, the city council approved a 7 percent salary increase for the city's finance director and recreation and parks director, to bring pay for those two spots in line with pay for other city department heads.

City Manager Alan Tandy called the 19 percent message unfair.

"It's an unfair reference making it sound like it's all positions" that received a 19 percent increase, he said.

The union has argued that their members are underpaid compared to officers in like-sized cities, such as Fresno, Modesto, Pasadena and Stockton, and compared to Kern County sheriff's deputies. It has commissioned a survey, which the city has been reviewing, Dickson said, on compensation for police officers elsewhere.

It shows, for example, that Bakersfield senior police officers are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to salary. They're paid 30 percent less than the average for senior officers in comparable cities, according to the survey.

"The purpose is to try to rally some public support behind it and get the city council members to get us a fair contract," Dickson said of the billboards. "Because we're at the table and nothing's happening."

There has been incremental, but not substantive forward, movement.

In April, the city offered a 6 percent pay increase going forward but no retroactive payments. Union members rejected it. In late June, the union responded by reiterating its offer to accept a 12 percent increase going forward, with retroactive payments back to 2010 instead of 2007 as it'd previously proposed. The retroactive payments would be the amount officers would have received if a 12 percent raise was instituted in 2010.

"They've been offered 6 percent. It is their unwillingness to accept the 6 percent," Tandy said. The city had offered a 12 percent increase in 2007 but was forced to withdraw that offer when the economy went south, Tandy said. "As the economy got better this year, we were in the position to offer the 6 percent."

The 12 percent demand, paid retroactively even to 2010 instead of 2007, is still unaffordable for the city, he said. It would cost about $6 million in retroactive pay to meet that demand, plus about $2.1 million a year going forward, Tandy said.

Bakersfield residents could expect to see more public signs of the dispute this fall. Dickson said the billboards are just the start of a campaign the union is working on that will continue this fall and "until we get this thing solved."

"There are some other issues that we're going to throw out there," he said. "We figure it's going to take awhile."

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