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Thursday, May 15, 2014

First responders, Reed rumble over pay

Atlanta City Councilmembers hear from Atlanta police union boss Ken Allen. Mayor Kasim Reed later popped by and shot down talk of pay raises for first responders
  • Maggie Lee
  • Atlanta City Councilmembers hear from Atlanta police union boss Ken Allen. Mayor Kasim Reed later popped by and shot down talk of pay raises for first responders.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told an Atlanta City Council panel on Wednesday that he would see Atlanta police and fire unions in court before signing a budget that included any kind of pay increase for litigious first responders.

If police and fire were to go to court over salary, that suit would be in line behind a union-led suit already underway on behalf of all city employees.

"I am not going to approve any budget with a raise while we're being sued for $48 million," in a pension reform case, Reed told a May 14 meeting of the Atlanta City Council's finance and executive committee. He was referring to a separate-but-kind-of-related lawsuit filed late last year over a 2011 city mandate for employees to contribute more money to their pensions.

Reed popped in and made the statement as councilmembers were hearing union proposals that would amount to roughly $5.5 million in new appropriations for police salaries and as much as $2 million more for firefighters.

The unions want the cash to make up for what's called "compression." That's when employees further down the ladder get paid more than employees of longer standing, because seniority is now valued differently than it was before a Great Recession-era rule change. Compression compounds over time too, said local International Brotherhood of Police Officers president Ken Allen.

What Allen said he proposes amounts to "between 6 and 15 percent pay raises for officers all the way up through the rank of lieutenant, adjusting the pay to help make equitable that promotional process that was taking peoples' salaries." It could be paid for in part by, ahem, the savings he said the city is accruing by the adjustment to its pension contributions.

Making up for compression in the Atlanta Fire and Rescue would cost something between $1.5 and $2 million under plans the Atlanta Professional Firefighters union is working on with the city, said its president, Stephen Borders.

It's not clear if there is a union appetite to indeed see the attorney-turned-mayor in court.

"We're jumping through every hoop, we're trying to do every thing," IBPO Vice President Jason Segura told the Committee. "I've never seen anyone do what we have to do ... if we can't move this thing forward, litigation is going to be the only way."

Reed's response was that "It would be catastrophic for the financial condition of this city, and put us back into the old days when we were laying off employees buy the hundreds and thousands if we raised salaries while we had a $48 million lawsuit. So I will see you in court ... The folks that are coming here bullying and talking about litigation, let's do it."

Allen said there is indeed a lot of talk about litigation and some attorneys think there may be scope for a case, but he said there has not been a lot of research on the question. The committee ultimatley made no move on any pay questions to send to the full council.

"I'm an advocate for getting this resolved in a way that is fiscally responsible but that is meaningful and corrects the problems the best we can," said Councilman Alex Wan, who chairs the committee.

Councilmembers are working on the city's 2015 budget.

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