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Fraternal Order of Police wins decision against the city

BY JENNIFER CABRERA / AUGUST 6, 2019

The Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) has issued a Recommended Order in favor of the Gator Lodge Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in their unfair labor practice charge against the City of Gainesville. 

The negotiations have been going on since October 2016, and the city has stated from the beginning that they wanted to change the patrol schedule, “in part, because it created significant problems in scheduling, accounting, and payroll calculations.” They specifically wanted “maximum flexibility” over the schedules. From the report: “Scott Heffner, the lead negotiator for the City, stated at the October 17 [2016] bargaining session that this change ‘would make [the FOP unit] like every other unit in the City with the exception of the [Police Benevolent Association].’ Heffner also stated that this change might seem ‘harsh and unreasonable,’ but ‘[t]hat’s what everybody else lives with. To us it is not harsh and unreasonable.’

The FOP declared that negotiations had reached an impasse on May 27, 2017, and a Special Magistrate was appointed. The FOP repeatedly offered to leave the language on hours and schedules the same as the previous contract (“status quo”), but the city’s position continued to be “open scheduling at management’s discretion the same way it is with most employees in the organization.”

The city then proposed language stating that “The normal workday for all employees covered by this Agreement will be an eight (8), ten (10), or twelve (12) hour shift in a twenty-four (24) hour period as designated by the Chief of Police to meet the Department’s operational needs.”

In February of 2018, the Special Magistrate recommended the status quo language, but the city rejected this. Because of increasing concern that the city and the Chief of Police wanted “unbridled discretion” on setting employees’ work hours, the FOP proposed new language that removed the bargaining waivers in the status quo language. Recent contracts have had these waivers to give the city some flexibility in scheduling, but they had never been used by the city. The new language proposed an 11-hour, 25-minute day. 

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On September 7, 2018, the city met with the FOP and, over the objections of the FOP, approved language that gave the city and the Chief of Police unilateral authority over scheduling, stating that the provision of the contract “shall not be construed as a guarantee to such employee of any specified number of hours of work either per day or per week or as limiting the right of the City to fix the number of hours of work (including overtime) either per day or per week for such employee. The City has the authority to establish shifts and to use any method in establishing a shift as well as change, increase, decrease, initiate, restrict and cancel a shift in order to meet the needs of the department and to provide superior service to the community.”

In October 2018, the city sent a letter to the FOP, threatening to implement their preferred language without a contract if the FOP did not move forward with the proposed language. In November, the FOP objected and threatened to file an unfair labor practice charge with PERC because the number of hours of work (including overtime), shifts, work period, and work schedule are all specifically granted as bargaining rights and a waiver of those rights can’t be imposed as part of an impasse resolution.

The FOP filed the unfair labor practice charge on November 7. As of December 31, “the City has placed FOP bargaining unit members on 12-hour work schedules, changed from three to two shifts, and required employees to work two days on two days off, and three days on three days off, instead of four days on four days off.” The city did not implement the raises in the contract when they implemented the schedule changes. Additionally, the new schedules were more irregular than the previous schedules, which made it difficult for officers to plan their off-duty time. At the PERC hearing in May, both parties agreed that 10-hour shifts would be “both preferential and beneficial.”

The decision reads, “Having reviewed the language from the version of Article 11 that the City imposed and then implemented, it is plain that it is unlawful on its face. It contains a number of waivers of mandatory bargaining rights.” The decision continues: “Tellingly, the City has used the language it imposed to implement changes without bargaining as well. It has placed employees on 12-hour shifts, eliminated the evening shift, and significantly altered the schedule of days on and days off. There is no evidence that the City bargained over any of these changes.”

The Hearing Officer recommended returning the language to “status quo” and awarded attorneys’ fees and costs to FOP. 

Photo credit: HAH Photography

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