The San Jose police employees’ union has ratified a tentative labor contract with the city but members remain concerned about the exodus of officers to other cities and the adequacy of disability benefits, a spokesman said today. The San Jose Police Officers Association’s membership voted 79 percent to 21 percent for the proposed work agreement that by 2015 would restore wage levels officers earned back in 2009, SJPOA spokesman Tom Saggau said. The tentative agreement next goes before the San Jose City Council for final ratification at the council’s Dec. 10 meeting.
The SJPOA and the city signed the tentative agreement on Nov. 19, which granted officers a pay raise of 10.66 percent over a 2.5-year period and a one-time 2 percent cash bonus based on officers’ annual salaries. San Jose cut the pay rates of police officers and all other city employees by 10 percent when a national recession drastically reduced tax revenues for the city in 2010. But morale remains low on the force as veteran officers are leaving San Jose for better-paying jobs with cities such as Redwood City, Santa Clara and Los Gatos, according to Saggau.
Those cites also use the California Public Employees Retirement System that the SJPOA sees as more fair than San Jose’s retirement system, into which officers must contribute 20 percent of their pay each bi-weekly pay period, Saggau said. “We need to have the pension system reformed,” Saggau said. “We can’t continue to pay 20 percent before health care (premium deductions) and taxes. It’s just killing us.” Veterans and new recruits are also opting out of the San Jose police force over the city’s disability system put into effect under Measure B, a citywide pension reform ballot initiative that voters passed in June 2012, according to Saggau. Under Measure B, if an officer is injured on the job and unable to return to police work, the city has to offer the disabled officer a city job in a new classification but only if there is an opening, Saggau said.
“If there are no jobs in the classification, you’re done,” Saggau said. Some new officers who have enlisted into the San Jose force have been buying private disability insurance policies to cover themselves financially if they are injured and cannot find new employment with San Jose, Saggau said. “The city is not totally protecting officers hurt in the line of duty,” Saggau said. “Why do I want to risk staying in San Jose when I can I step across the border and get better pay, better benefits and personal safety?” he said.
City spokesman David Vossbrink described the SJPOA’s statements about the lack of disability coverage due to Measure B as “overstated.” “The city disagrees with their interpretation,” Vossbrink said. “We have a very robust workers’ compensation system.” Any injured police officer that cannot find alternative work with the Police Department may take disability retirement, whether there is a city job available or not, Vossbrink said. “The interpretation (of Measure B) that the POA is putting out to its members is certainly not the city’s interpretation,” Vossbrink said.
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