The contract situation between unionized Miami Springs police officers and the city has kick-started the rumor mill and two officers are hoping to set the record straight. Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Sgt. Claire Gurney and Police Benevolent Association (PBA) union representative Sgt. Jimmy Deal hope to quell misconceptions about what officers are seeking.
After two placard-holding demonstrations on the Circle and in front of City Hall prior to council meetings, officers feel that most citizens support the police. However, the cops feel that residents and business owners are uninformed or under-informed about the issues.
A 12-year veteran, Gurney was re-elected president of the FOP last week and says officers are currently in a stalemate. The choice comes down to having the Florida State FOP as a union rep or no union. The PBA is not fighting the switch and has basically withdrawn from any vote.
More than 60 percent of the officers voiced an interest to the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) to vote for the Florida State FOP as a union/collective bargaining unit.
“Since officers haven’t had a contract with the city for five years, we’re considering whether to go with the FOP,” said Gurney. “We have 31 officers out of 42 in the FOP and most officers aren’t happy with our PBA representation.”
Gurney said the main point is that there’s no good-faith bargaining by the city. “Everything is one-sided,” said Gurney.
Officers are particularly concerned that the city refused to change a 1993 contract which defined contribution guidelines. Gurney said Mayor Zavier Garcia referred to the agreement as the “golden egg” that the city wasn’t going to give up.
“Giving that up would change the mechanism and the city would have to contribute more to the pension,” said Gurney. “We’re locked into an agreement made 20 years ago and since then the market has changed and that greatly cost the police.”
Gurney said when she became an officer she contributed $40 per paycheck every two weeks and it’s now about $570 per paycheck and police haven’t had a raise for five years because there’s no contract. (According to the current agreement, Gurney will have to contribute a minimum of $750 per paycheck to the pension fund beginning in October.)
Gurney explained the misconception about officers retiring with 100 percent of their salary, which is a mathematical computation.
“If an officer works 20 years, he or she can retire with 70 percent,” said Gurney. “Additional years can increase that amount. If an officer works 28.5 years, he or she can retire with 100 percent, but the majority are not doing that.”
Gurney said the city is trying to change the parameters so a young officer will have to work 30 years and still not reach the maximum age of 55, which is the age an officer has to be to retire. “The city also wants to change the maximum to 80 percent,” said Gurney. “The game is being changed after we took the job.”
As for overtime money, as a sergeant, Gurney said she rarely gets overtime. “And our overtime doesn’t factor into our retirement,” said Gurney. “With Miami-Dade Police, overtime factors and off-duty jobs go into the pension.”
Gurney said one of the main concerns is that if benefits suffer, the department will have a hard time hiring quality officers. She said starting pay is in the high-$40,000 range but pension contributions can take that down to the $25,000 take-home pay.
“One of our officers who has been here three years takes home about $1,000 every two weeks,” said Gurney. “And he has a family.”
According to Gurney, Miami Springs trains quality officers and they want to stay in the city but some move on to larger police departments for the benefits.
“I tell citizens they can help us by speaking at open forum before the city council,” said Gurney. “We try to educate people and encourage our residents to spread the word.”
Deal said a majority of Miami Springs’ police officers weren’t pleased with their representation by the PBA and are considering changing unions.
“It’s a long and arduous process,” said Deal. “When the PBA was notified of the majority’s intentions, the PBA said it wasn’t going to fight it.”
According to Deal, one value of being in a union is that legal representation is provided for officers involved in contention situations. Thirty-two of 38 MSPD officers are in the union, not including ranking officers.
Deal has been an officer for almost 20 years and if the city council passes the pension proposal, Deal said he will be forced to retire this year and enter the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP). He will then cease employment within the next five years with 70 percent of his pay, which has no supplemental insurance or cost-of-living increase.
“I don’t think any union will make a difference,” said Deal. “Whichever union it is, we would be having the same issues because of the way the city is negotiating. A special magistrate has ruled in our favor in the past but the city has refused to go along with that.”
Deal said the citizens need to know what’s going on with city spending, particularly frivolous spending, especially for pet projects.
“The police department is not a priority,” said Deal. “Therefore, the police department will suffer because the quality of officers will suffer and the quality of life in Miami Springs will go down the tubes.”
Starting salary for a Miami Springs police officer is around $48,000 and it tops out at $67,606 after eight years. “We’re nowhere near the top,” said Deal. “Plus, other agencies give a lot more benefits than we get.”
Deal cited examples of a comparative salary: an Aventura police sergeant tops out at $102,107. “Of course, it’s a much richer city and might attract young officers,” said Deal. “Miami-Dade County Police contribute only 5 percent at most to their retirement, although department size is a factor.”
Deal said, “Citizens need to inform council members that money spent on the golf course for a fence for the Curtiss Mansion could have been spent elsewhere to lower our contribution to the pension. We’re not asking for a tax increase. It’s just that money being spent frivolously could help us out as well as using red light camera revenue. We do all the work and we just want a percentage.”
“As for overtime and extra-duty jobs, they are few and far between,” said Deal.
Deal said the country’s bad economy has caused both the city and police to contribute more to the pension fund but that couldn’t be helped, and the amount will always fluctuate.
“We haven’t done anything to cause the city to lose money like the golf course,” said Deal.
Deal says if the Florida State FOP is voted in as the union, he’s not going to join it. “I’ll stay with the PBA,” said Deal. “And I’ll no longer be a union rep. I’m done.”
Note: Before the last meeting, the council met in executive session, meaning behind closed doors with no audience or media in attendance. It’s allowed by charter in certain circumstances.
“I can’t talk about the meeting,” Garcia said, “nor should anyone else talk about it.”