RACINE — The city and its police officers have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract — more than two years after the previous contract expired.
The Finance & Personnel Committee will vote on the new contract Monday, and the City Council will vote March 21.
The Racine Police Association members also must vote whether to approve the new contract.
City officers have been working under a contract that expired Dec. 31, 2020, because of a benefits dispute between the city and its public safety departments.
The tentative contract offers:
- A 15% raise implemented over four years, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021.
- A $2,000 retention bonus.
- An additional paid holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
- 320 hours of paid parental leave.
- A 3% wage differential for those who live in the city.
- Student loan repayment assistance for city residents.
- Mortgage down payment assistance for city residents.
In addition, the council approved a $5,000 recruitment bonus on March 7.
With the exception of the wage increase and bonuses, the additional benefits were previously approved for the city’s non-union workforce.
The city’s goal is to have a workforce that lives in Racine and to off-set the higher cost of doing so.
A statement released by the city read: “These incentives recognize the vital role that police officers play in the community and aim to attract and retain high-quality public safety workers.”
Mayor Cory Mason said he was looking forward to bringing the contract to the City Council and urged the aldermen to support it.
“I am thrilled we have reached an agreement with the Racine Police Association after hard negotiations from both teams,” he said. “The contract recognizes the important and difficult work of our police officers and compensates them appropriately.
“As we continue to face public safety challenges, this agreement demonstrates our commitment to working together to keep the community safe and healthy.”
Alderman Natalia Taft, who is chairman of the Finance & Personnel Committee, said the contract struck a balance “between supporting our public safety workers with competitive wages and benefits while also ensuring the city’s long-term fiscal sustainability.”
“This agreement is a significant step forward in both retention and recruitment of public safety officers and staff who share our commitment to making sure Racine is a safe, secure and healthy community,” she said. “I have tremendous respect for the tireless efforts of our police officers in keeping our community safe, especially during these challenging times.”
The benefits dispute goes back to action taken by the City Council in 2019 that made changes to employee retirement benefits in order to reduce legacy costs at a time when there were significant budget constraints for the city.
The union-represented public safety employees balked at the changes and argued retirement eligibility and benefits should be negotiated in the contract.
The city said that state law prohibited such matters from being negotiated under Act 32, which former Gov. Scott Walker advanced in 2011.
Both sides agreed to put the dispute before Wisconsin Employee Relations Committee, which ultimately sided with the city almost 18 months later.
City fire and police have appealed that decision and the matter is making its way through the courts.
The tentative agreement includes language acknowledging there is an appeal of the WERC decision and further discussion would be necessary depending on the direction the appeal takes.
The Racine Police Association did not comment on the tentative agreement.
However, Kevin Kupper, president of the RPA board, previously said that what members were looking for was a wage increase without stipulations.
The wage increase was important to RPA members because it could help stop the exodus of officers leaving for other departments with higher pay, but Kupper did not think members would agree to the wage increase in exchange for a stipulation they dismiss their court case.
This graph shows the steady decline of Racine Police Department
personnel over three years.
Kupper said the benefits were important to officers because there were many years when they did not receive a substantial pay increase, but they did receive certain benefit considerations.
To illustrate the point, in the tentative contract, officers will receive a 15% wage increase over four years. Whereas, officers received only 12.5% increase in wages between 2011 and 2020.
RPA members include patrol officers, investigators, criminalists and traffic investigators.
The city has not negotiated a contract with the Staff Officers Association, which covers lieutenants and sergeants, and they will continue under the contract that expired on Dec. 31, 2020.
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