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FOP threatens lawsuit

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

The local police union has threatened to sue if the Marion City Council accepts Mayor Jess Alumbaugh’s proposed fix to grant union benefits to police and fire leadership.

In a letter to the city council, signed by Brian Sharp, president of the Martin Boots Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and Justin Faw, FOP vice president, the union leadership says the mayor’s changes would effectively alter the union contract, which can’t be altered by city ordinance or resolution.

Alumbaugh’s proposal adds language to the city’s employee manual granting police and fire chiefs and deputy chiefs the same benefits as the bargaining units.

But the FOP said since their contract excludes leadership from the union and its benefits, granting them the same benefits would be a runaround to changing the contract with negotiation.

Chiefs and deputy chiefs in the Marion Fire Department and Marion Police Department have been receiving a number of union-specific benefits for decades, despite their exclusion from the unions.

But the State Board of Accounts (SBOA) recently found in an audit that there was no language in the city’s salary ordinance authorizing the city to pay the benefits, which total several thousand dollars per employee per year.

The city stopped paying out the benefits in January. The mayor has been seeking a solution since then so he can continue compensating public safety leadership at the same level.

Sharp said the union doesn’t have a problem with their leadership receiving the same benefits as the union. The problem lies in the way the mayor is going about the solution, Sharp said.

“The union does not have a problem with them getting (the benefits) at all,” Sharp said.

“There’s a clause or an article in the contract that says the city council cannot make an ordinance that would alter the contract in any way. … We do not have an issue with it, we were just concerned with the way it was presented,” Sharp said.

The letter to city council members describes the ordinance as “a direct violation of our current bargaining unit agreement” and asks the council to reject the ordinance or “just not entertain it at all.”

“It is our intent to file a class action grievance under Section 47.5 of the Fraternal Order of Police collective bargaining agreement should this resolution / city ordinance be amended from its original adoption by you as proposed by Mayor Alumbaugh,” the letter reads.

The council seems likely to follow the union’s advice for now as Council President Alan Miller has told Alumbaugh that the council is not ready to consider his proposal.

Miller and Council members Lynn Johnson and Steve Henderson have all said they do not support the mayor’s ordinance.

Henderson said he had concerns about creating a conflict of interest in union negotiations, since leadership sits on the city’s side in negotiations.

Sharp said that wasn’t a concern of the FOP.

“We don’t consider it an issue, we don’t believe it’s an issue,” Sharp said.

Miller said he would like to maintain the divide between labor and management.

But Sharp also did not seem to have that concern. He said the exclusion of leadership from the union is essential because it’s state law.

But beyond that legal necessity, Sharp said, “When you look at it, no matter what happens, we’re all going to retire as police officers, no matter your rank.”