Officers in UPD union to vote on contract agreement with University

Unionized University Police officers will finish voting Monday evening to determine if members approve of a proposed contract with GW or if the roughly 85-member force will picket for the first time in its history.

The University’s contract with the International Union, Security, Police, Fire Professionals of America expired Dec. 31, and renewal negotiations over the past month have been tense, leading to a “bad deal,” Darrin Carter, president of the Local 294 branch of the union that the officers fall under, said.

The agreement hammered out in talks Thursday and Friday settled on a 3-percent wage increase for the first year of a three-year contract, but it opens up pay negotiations for later years – according to a proposal obtained by The Hatchet – likely bringing union representatives and the University back to the bargaining table in a year.

Voting on the contract began Saturday, Carter said, and will conclude Monday evening. Of the officers he has spoken with, Carter said 80 percent dislike the deal, though he does not yet know which votes they placed in the ballot box.

The plan to picket if the deal does not receive a majority vote is not a bluff, Carter said, adding that the officers do not wish to strike and would hold the protests to share their message with the community and University leadership.

In the event that more than half of the officers in the union reject the proposal, officers would continue working their scheduled shifts but still participate in the informational picketing while off duty, passing out literature and forming a line outside UPD’s headquarters at the Woodhull House.

Guy Thomas, one of the union’s national directors, said officers have been given copies of the agreement and debriefed on its terms, and the next step is to wait for the voting period to close.

“We’re letting each individual officer make their own individual decision,” Thomas said. “You can never predict these.”

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard declined to speculate on whether officers will accept the agreement or the potential for picketing.

“Both sides reached agreement Friday evening after an extended period of good-faith negotiations,” a University statement provided by the Office of Media Relations read.

Wages are not locked down for second and third years of the proposed contract, and if the agreement passed, the union would reopen talks after the first year’s fixed 3-percent pay increase to “try to get the best wage increase we could for the officers.”

On average, police patrol officers at colleges and universities across the country earn $46,560 annually, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics published in May 2010. Security patrol officers at GW make about $42,000 annually, Carter said – about $21.41 an hour.

A 3-percent wage hike would raise the hourly rate to $22.05 – still 34 cents lower than the national hourly mean wage.

The proposed contract does not include the union’s demand for a 5-cent raise for night differentials, or payment for work between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. That wage had stood at 75 cents an hour for more than 15 years, Carter and Thomas said.

The contract also includes provisions that would allow the University to cancel an officer’s leave in major emergencies and require him or her to show up to shifts they previously had approval to miss, unless the officer could show receipts or other proof that they spent at least $100 on a vacation.

One officer whose leave was canceled during the holiday season, despite approval by supervisors, said he will vote against the proposed agreement because of the leave cancellation clause. He asked to remain anonymous because UPD officers are not authorized to speak to the media.

“You should not have to worry and say, ‘Maybe I’ll be called in, maybe I won’t,’ if you have approved leave,” he said.

Another officer, who has heard that many of his colleagues are voting against the agreement, said he voted in favor of the proposal because it is reasonable. He added that the leave condition for receipts serves as a protection for officers who have spent a large sum on plane tickets.

“You have to give something to get some stuff,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to understand where the people you work for are coming from. It’s not all about you.”

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