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Council rejects new police contracts

It's back to the bargaining table as the Sunnyside City Council by a vote of 5-2 last night rejected 2009 union contracts with police and police sergeants.

The sticking points in the contracts presented Monday night were increasing the amount of accrued vacation hours from 240 to 360 each year and a provision that would have paid police up to two-and-a-half times their salary if they are called back to service from a scheduled vacation break.

Council didn't reject the contracts outright, but by voting to amend the bargaining agreements to reduce vacation accruals back to 240 hours and eliminating the extra pay for vacation callbacks it in effect negates the union accords previously reached.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock made the motion to amend the two portions of the 2009 contracts and only council members Bill Gant and Tom Gehlen voted no on the move.

Mayor Paul Garcia felt the move to increase the amount of vacation accruals would seem to make it more difficult to schedule vacation time each year.

He also took aim at the vacation call back bonus, noting it's up to the police department management to schedule staffing so that call backs aren't needed in the first place.

The language calling for two-and-a-half times salary for getting called back from vacation is not in any other police contracts in the state. Sunnyside would have been the first to implement such a policy, Hancock said.

Councilman Jim Restucci said he wasn't comfortable going forward with the contract as presented, wondering why Sunnyside should be "the first in the state."

The proposal seemed to irk Hancock, who noted that police have already received a 5 percent pay hike this year in exchange for doing away with vacation buyback, which previously allowed officers to in effect work during vacation time and draw double pay.

Mayor pro tem Bruce Epps said officers should feel fortunate they have good paying jobs with good benefits given the current economic climate, and joined Garcia in calling for police management to handle vacation scheduling.

Police Chief Ed Radder said there have been situations in the past where officers have been called back from vacation. It's so rare, though, he said he couldn't remember the last time it happened.

City Manager Eric Swansen said the issue of extra pay for coming back from vacation was requested by the police unions.

Swansen said they wanted the language in the bargaining agreement out of concern they would be called from vacation given reduced staffing and the possibility some in the military reserves may be called to active duty.

He said he'll go back to the bargaining table with the police unions, but warned they'll want something in return for giving up the extra vacation accruals and the vacation call back bonus.

Swansen suggested that police officers and sergeants may call for a return of the vacation buyback, perhaps pushing to have it only be a temporary cancellation.

"Then maybe the 5 percent (pay raise) can be a temporary thing, too," Hancock said.

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