Already months past a deadline, Fort Worth police officers will enter the new year working under an existing contract after talks ended Friday without an agreement.
Meet-and-confer talks, a collective bargaining tool that gives the police officers association the right to negotiate employment issues with the city manager, began nearly a year ago in January with the hope that a deal could be reached by June, four months before the current contract expired. Police officers have since been working under a one-year “evergreen period” clause that extended the contract as talks continued.
Friday’s meeting was the 13th between members of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association and the city staff, and their attorneys. Another session is scheduled for mid-January and both sides now hope a contract can be in place in February. The contract would be retroactive to Oct. 1. A new contract would expire on Sept. 30, 2020.
Wages, overtime and incentive pay have emerged as key issues during the talks, as has the use of polygraph testing for officers joining the Fort Worth force from other police departments.
Police are asking for a 3 percent across-the-board raise for each year of the four-year contract. They’re also seeking higher monthly incentive amounts for officers with college degrees and other professional certifications, and $1,000 annually for meeting voluntary and mandatory fitness requirements. The city is offering $300.
Since talks began, the city has stood firm on 2 percent annual raises.
We have concrete dollars to work with. We figured out from a budget standpoint what we could afford.
Valerie Washington, Fort Worth assistant city manager
“We have concrete dollars to work with,” said Valerie Washington, the assistant city manager handling negotiations. “We figured out from a budget standpoint what we could afford.”
The union also wants to add language in the new contract requiring officers who come from other departments to take a polygraph test, just as a new recruits would. The lateral entry officer program, or LEO, allows certified police officers from departments to join the Fort Worth force and be paid for their experience.
Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald has come under fire recently for saying he doesn’t think laterals need polygraph tests.
Ron DeLord, the lawyer representing the police association, said not having the polygraph tests allows the chief to grant unfair exceptions in hiring and that in some cases too much time has passed since prospective employees’ last test.
“We want everyone to come through the front door,” DeLord said.
The city is also proposing to lower the hiring age for the Police Department to 20 from 21.