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After rejecting latest contract offer, CPOA and Claremont head to litigation

By just one vote, members of the Claremont Police Officers Association have rejected the city’s latest contract offer.

The proposal was turned down 19 to 18 at a general meeting of the CPOA held Friday, according to Detective Rick Varney, who serves as the association president.

The contract was taken back to its general membership for a vote after its negotiation team gave tentative approval late last month. Just as the association team thought the long stretch of rejected contracts, impasse and lawsuits between their association and city was over, they were proven wrong.

“If you don’t think one vote counts, you are absolutely wrong,” Det. Varney said. “Every vote counts and every vote is equally as important.”

Again at a standstill, the CPOA will move forward with its original lawsuits to the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). The city and police association will meet with a mediator from PERB Monday morning in hopes of working out a solution before further litigation.

“I was proud of what the negotiation team did. In my opinion I thought it was the best contract possible,” Det. Varney said, “but the feeling of our membership is that they want to see what happens at PERB. They want to see what the outcome would be.”

As told to the COURIER in a meeting in late March, Det. Varney had been encouraged by the results produced during last month’s negotiations without the presence of legal counsel.

“We had that ‘open-line' communication, which was a huge key in negotiations," he said, and the groups were finally able to come up with a tentative agreement.

The general memberships’ unfavorable vote, however, changes this. Now, attorneys will be brought back to the negotiation table as the 2 groups seek to find a solution to the lawsuits and contracts. The city is estimating about $100,000 in city funds will be needed to defend itself in the association’s case against the city, according to a city news release.

“I’m extremely disappointed at this turn of events,” said Claremont Mayor Larry Schroeder in a statement. “After months of discussions, the city and the CPOA’s leadership reached a tentative agreement based upon a counteroffer from the CPOA negotiation team that would have benefited both parties and, more importantly, Claremont’s residents and businesses. I don’t understand why the CPOA decided to reject the tentative agreement and turn its back on a reasonable, viable solution to this ongoing dispute.”

The police association’s negotiating team is equally at a loss.

“I’m disappointed in the total outcome,” Det. Varney said. “I thought the negotiations had gone well, but evidently members feel differently.”

Under the contract tentatively agreed upon late last month, members of the CPOA would pay their full PERS contribution, which totals 9 percent (or 8 percent for those who do not carry weapons) by 2013. In return, they would receive a 5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), in total, through the end of the contract term, a 0.5 percent increase from what the city originally proposed and what other Claremont employee groups received.

The compromise was made "in order to secure a long-term contract with the police that was mutually beneficial to everyone," according to a previous statement by City Manager Tony Ramos to the COURIER. He insisted it would not present a significant impact to city funds.

Now, Det. Varney only sees 2 possible solutions, neither of which he feels is better than the city’s latest offer. The first might have the city reinforce a contract similar to its other employee unions, which was rejected numerous times by the CPOA. The second possibility is throwing out the old proposals and coming up with a fresh contract.

Vocalizing their disappointment in this latest ‘setback,’ city officials did recognize the efforts of the negotiating team’s in resolving this ongoing dispute.

“We understand it was a very close vote and I want to thank those members of the CPOA who felt it was in the best interest of all to agree to the contract,” Mr. Ramos said. “The city and the CPOA will continue to meet and confer on a new contract that will be effective July 1, 2012 when the existing contract expires.”

—Beth Hartnett

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