Collective bargaining effect

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/2/2023, 2:20 a.m.
Collective bargaining is becoming a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the wages that the city pays …

Collective bargaining is becoming a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the wages that the city pays its employees.

Richmond police officers, and potentially city firefighters, could see pay jump 11%t or at least $6,000 a year, the Free Press has learned, as City Hall and the Richmond Coalition of Police seek to finalize their first three-year union contract, the Free Press has learned.

The potential for a large boost in public safety is emerging as labor and trades employees finally selected their bargaining agent, Teamsters Local 322, which already represents Richmond Public Schools bus drivers.

The local fell one vote short of winning a majority in June, but won the runoff election 152-130 on Oct. 27 to best a competitor, LIUNA or Laborers International Union of North America.

The unit includes 610 employees, including building inspectors from the Department of Planning and Development Review as well as electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, refuse collectors and a host of other workers involved in labor and trades in the departments of Public Works and Public Utilities.

Professional employees are the only ones who have yet to organize. Two other unions are in place.

One is for firefighters, who are represented by Local 995 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The other is for administrative and technical employees who are represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 512.

No information on the status of their contract negotiations is available.

Both RCOP and IAFF Local 995 are in formal arbitration with the city on several issues after reaching an impasse in talks with Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration.

But the pay issue appears closer to settlement, at least for RCOP, due to the Richmond Police Department shrinkage.

Already down about 160 officers as Chief Rick Edwards has noted, the Richmond Police Department has struggled to attract recruits and transfers with a starting pay of $53,000 a year or at least $5,000 to $6,000 below virtually every other department in the Richmond-Petersburg area.

That’s regarded as a key reason that the department now fields fewer than 600 sworn personnel rather than more than 725 officers who were once available for patrol, investigation and other duties. Even more worrisome, the department has nearly 100 veterans who have 25 years of service and are eligible to retire, and an equal number who will reach eligibility within three years, according to department data.

Under a plan the administration has advanced during bargaining, the Free Press was told that the 2024-25 city budget to be introduced in March would include starting police pay at least 102% of the collective average starting pay for Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico sworn officers in the current 2023-24 fiscal year.

The administration, the Free Press was told, has proposed to index starting pay so that in the 2025-26 fiscal year, officers’ starting pay would be 103% of the average for the three suburban departments in the 2024-25 fiscal year.

In the 2026-27 city budget, it would be 104% of the average of the three suburban departments in the 2025-26 fiscal year.

The goal is to sharply reduce the wide pay gap that has developed and help make the city department more competitive, the Free Press was told.

The higher starting pay is to flow through other ranks, who also have been promised a step increase in their pay plan, the Free Press was told.

The wage package alone could run more than $11 million for police. Previously, the city has sought to provide the same raises to firefighters that it has provided to police officers.

When final contracts will be completed remains uncertain.

Any final contracts that are approved by the Stoney administration and ratified by the union would still need approval from the council, according to the ordinance the council passed approving collective bargaining. The proposed 2024-25 budget is to be presented to City Council in March.