Contract Negotiation Preparations
-- Step Two --
BY DON K. RUIZ
NAPSO/CWA LOCAL 9110, LABOR
So now you’ve spent the time in between signing your last contract and the upcoming contract negotiations accomplishing the tasks as explained in Step 1 in these series of article, and you have dedicated the time that it takes to represent your membership. You’ve attended various meetings, from Chamber mixers to City/County Council presentations and meetings to individual luncheons with your respective Council or Commissioners. Through this activity you should be able to categorize who is a friend of law enforcement and who is not (I highly recommend making personal notes or maintaining a journal on these experiences with your representatives or individuals).
As we prepare, months before we meet with your local government, it is time to (as we say) “Count Noses”. We truly need to ask ourselves do we have a favorable majority in our local government. Tally who is in favor of your group and who is not. In your meetings you will learn who is a fan, because your government leaders will have no issue with explaining how they feel about law enforcement and your group in particular. This simple process is going to give us our strategy in how we prepare and inevitably how we proceed.
We will cover both strategies for preparation in favorable and unfavorable government opinions towards our law enforcement entity, but due to space requirements we will only cover a FAVORABLE relationship in this chapter.
If we have a favorable majority currently sitting in our local government leadership and we have spent some individual time with these elected officials informing them of what our association is in need of, then we have half the battle won. We also need to access our relationship with the City or County’s lead negotiator or “Talking Head”. We strive to always have a decision maker at the table, but let us be honest, a City/County Manager or Human Resource Director or even a contracted attorney does not make the final decision. In the end the elected officials will ratify and they have to be satisfied their decision will ensure that they have a favorable return in support, in others words, they want to be re-elected…This is why meeting with Civic groups and hosting events for the youth or under-privileged in any community is so important. These types of events cast a favorable perception of law enforcement, which local leaders seem to always notice.
With our perceived favorable support with government leadership, I have found, in addition, that forming a positive relationship with a City/County Manager or Human Resource Director has given my members/clients the most benefits over the years. Of course, there has to be favorable external sources, as well (for example: The City or County must be sitting in a sound financial base and the future outlook must have some optimism). If all factors are present then this relationship will prove to be more fruitful then not. Keep in mind the government representative job, sitting at the bargaining table, is to keep as much in the local government coffers as they can.
Even when I have gone against contracted “Union Buster” attorney’s, I have been able to forge positive relationships, once I gain the knowledge of what the City/County is truly attempting to accomplish by bringing in such a person. We will deal with this issue in later chapters.
If all is going well and we have positive relationships with the local government leadership and those individuals who will serve as the “Talking Head” or lead negotiator for the government, then we must begin our simple data retrieval. The first and most important duty is to request, before any meeting with the local government, the Certified Annual Financial Report or CAFR. This is a legal document that is required by law to be delivered to the state. As a means of necessary and relevant information you have a right to this report. This report will always be a year behind in data, but it clearly and precisely explains exactly how a local government’s money was spent in the previous year. This report is often times very complex and difficult to understand, unless you have an accounting specialty. However, there are simple steps that you can look at to give you a simplistic view of how the local government entity is doing. The process I take in the beginning is simply reading the independent accounting firms opening letter that will explain how the local government is doing. Secondly I review the local government’s total assets and expenditures. Do the math and subtract the total deficits from the assets and this should give you a total amount, either positive or negative. I also look for a categorized dollar amount that is labeled “Unreserved Funding”. This category is critical. Local governments, by law, need to maintain approximately 10% of their total monies in an unreserved funding account. This merely means that the government has no obligations to this money and that it is there for the “Rainy Day” or as we call it “Rainy Day fund”. I will calculate this rainy fund to find if it is at 10% or hopefully greater. More often, during regular fiscal times, and not like what we have experienced over the past few years of this recession, you will find that this budget is sitting at 12%-13%. I generally base my member’s desires on this 2%-3% overage.
With this basic knowledge of the CAFR, it is also time to now prepare a comparative study of all local law enforcement associations that have a comparable departmental size and community population. The secondary thought when doing this comparable study is to research your department and learn where the staff that has severed employment relocated too. Even if you have a small department, yet you have a large majority of officers or deputies’ lateral to a larger department with a higher base pay, our argument is that we need to offer close to comparable pay to compete, even if that department is 300 miles or more away.
You are now armed with the basic knowledge of what a local government can relatively spend, keeping in mind that they have other government employees to consider. You also are aware of where your association stands amongst the law enforcement community in terms of wage and benefits. With an understanding of the local governments potential spending limit and your associations desires, you should be able to prepare for presentation a fiscally sound and reasonable offer to your local government. With a favorable relationship concerning your local government leaders and lead negotiator you should have success.
While this process is explained in a mere few paragraphs, this process is extremely time consuming and will require a huge amount of dedication, but it will give you and your association a high level of respect.
In the coming months we will discuss the unfortunate majority of our demographics, which is the UNFAVORABLE relationship with local government leaders. In these hard times, there are more local government entities that are waging war on their employee’s and blaming their staff for their bad economic decisions and unless you prepare for this confrontation, be resolved to walking away a loser at the bargaining table. We will discuss strategic tactics that will help in our fight to maintain a fair wage and compensation for the dangerous job we do.
Until then, be safe and be wise.