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Genesee Patrol joins POLC to turn around losses

Posted by: Jennifer Gomori Posted date: September 5, 2017

— By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor

At one time Genesee Township Patrol had 30 full-time Officers, but when the recession hit, the Township laid off full-time staff and replaced them with part-timers at huge hourly wage and benefit reductions.

“In 2008 and 09, when the recession hit, our township fell victim to revenue cuts and laid off six patrol officers,” said Genesee Township Det. Paul Colliver, local union president.

No other township employees were laid off, Colliver said, and their former union filed a grievance on their behalf, but the arbitrator ruled the Township could lay off those employees. The membership immediately lost faith in their prior union. “They laid off six and we had people retire or resign. We had people go to work at other places because they saw what was coming down the pike here,” Colliver said.

Those positions remained vacant for a long period of time and some have yet to be filled. With the layoffs and other departures, the township sought part-time replacements reducing their pay from $27 to $14 an hour with no benefits. A few of the officers were brought back into those positions as the job market was limited at the time. “They used to make nearly $60,000 a year with acceptable benefits,” Colliver said. “Some of the Officers had to relocate to get better wages. Our unit was reduced to such low numbers that I felt we were looked upon as the bottom of the barrel. We just didn’t have the full-time strength in numbers anymore.”

“We also felt we had terrible union representation during the attack,” Colliver said. Patrol worked independently to recall three of the six laid off based on seniority, he said. Their former union representative, who also represented township secretaries and sergeants, was absent during those efforts.

As the department worked to rebuild and replace full-time officers with part-timers, the membership decided it was time for a change. They joined the POLC, who represents the 14 part-time and six full-time member unit.

“We needed our representative representing us,” Colliver said. “We needed a union who would help us re-grow our membership and salvage our benefits. Immediately we noticed all the personal treatment (POLC Labor Rep.) Chris Watts gave us. Every other day he was giving us a call.”

“The POLC was 110 percent right for us,” Colliver said. “I did a lot of research of other unions and I saw a lot of positive things with POLC. The staff attorneys were a large selling point for us. We thought that contracting attorneys from outside was not good for us. We also discovered many Genesee County departments are represented by POLC.”

Genesee Township Patrol was impressed with the POLC’s ability to get Flushing Township Police Department reinstated after the township decided to contract out police services, disbanding the department. “We witnessed a lot of things they did, especially with the Flushing deal, with POLC fighting for their members and winning,” Colliver said.

Cops are like family. They like to stick with the people they know and trust, Colliver said. “You know the bond police officers have. We like that POLC reps are former police officers.” He was excited to hear he knew their new representative. “I’ve worked with Chris and I trained with Chris,” Colliver said.

Watts said the objective in negotiations was to preserve employee benefits and improve officer morale, while helping the Township meet their budget goals. “As soon as we voted in POLC, we started on our contract negotiations. We were up late and Chris was up early calling me. That guy’s a machine when it comes to negotiations.”

Slashing pension benefits was a big issue the Township was pushing. During a MERS meeting, Colliver said, officials were giving them a negative hypothetical pension situation in an effort to get them to agree to proposed cuts. “Originally, they wanted to see us bridge the (pension) program down, reducing the benefit for everyone including the members who paid into it for several years,” Watts said. “They talked about reductions in healthcare for actives and retirees. We were able to negotiate significant changes within the pension system to help with future liabilities while avoiding other proposed cuts.”

“The elephant in the room was bad business decisions from earlier administrations who kept pushing the costs down the road,” Watts said. “The chickens have come home to roost and the current administration is left to pay off the bill for decisions that were made years back.”

Fortunately, the Township Supervisor recognized the value of his employees, Watts said, and helped establish a plan that offers relief in some areas, while maintaining benefits and pay for others. “He worked with me to stop any backward movement and offer some increases in future years,” Watts said.

The POLC was able to secure a three-year contract with a bonus of $500 in year two and a three percent wage increase in the third year. A wage re-opener was agreed upon if the township decides to put officers back on 12-hour shifts. Detectives received up to $300 more for clothing allowance annually. Most importantly, Colliver said, were the losses they avoided.

“They were really pushing for this to become a part-time police department,” Colliver said. “We were trying to take care of the (full-time) guys that did come back from layoff, while keeping the interests of part-timers in mind. The previously laid off guys had to cash out their MERS time and several other things just to survive. It’s been a long six years. It’s been a brutal battle for us.”

“They wanted to take a whole list of additional things from our contract and delete them,” Colliver said. “Chris did a phenomenal job of keeping his composure and fighting for us. We finally have the voice we were looking for. POLC came to the table and secured a good contract.”

Watts said the township is a busy place with thousands of police calls made annually. It’s also a lower income area, which reduces the amount of money brought in through property taxes. “They need police out there,” he said. “The Union and the City must work together to figure out how to continue to provide a much needed full-time professional service at a sustainable cost.”

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