No chance to speak doesn’t keep Auburn police from making noise

AUBURN – Auburn Police officers didn’t get a chance to talk to the City Council Monday, but they tried to get their message across.

Forty-eight Auburn union supporters attended Monday’s City Council workshop meeting, including police, fire and public works employees. The city is currently negotiating contracts with the police and public works unions. Both contracts expired on June 30.

Because the public doesn’t get a chance to speak during workshops, they didn’t get a chance talk to councilors directly. They settled for sitting in during open parts of the meeting and milling around in the hall outside of council chambers during two executive sessions. Councilors met behind closed doors first to discuss financial arrangements for a land swap with Developer Tom Platz and again later to discuss a city employee.

Employees said the meeting with Platz was ironic.

“They have money for every pet project, every downtown redevelopment scheme,” said Patrol Officer Norm Letourneau. “But when it comes to us – they’re balancing the budget on our backs.”

Assistant City Manager Mark Adams said the city is negotiating with both unions, but wouldn’t say what issues were being discussed. Adams said he is scheduled to meet with the Public Works union on July 21 and the Police union on July 25.

Union representatives said money and staffing levels are the key sticking points.

“We understand these are tough times,” said Detective Chad Syphers, the union president. “That’s why we’re not asking for a lot. All we’re saying is, don’t take it from us.”

According to Syphers, officers are most upset by a proposed increase in monthly health insurance premiums. Police currently pay 10 percent of their monthly insurance premiums, but the city would like to increase that to 15 percent, Syphers said.

Syphers said the city is also proposing no cost-of-living increases. That would mean cuts in take-home pay for most officers when combined with the health insurance premium, according to Syphers.

“This means a cut in pay for most of us, and that’s the issue,” Syphers said.

Staffing is another problem, he said. Police are currently working with four patrol officers and one supervisor for many shifts. That puts one patrol officer in each of the city’s four police beats and puts a supervisor at the police station, but leaves no backup.

“There is no time to do anything but react,” Officer Tim Morrell said. “Speeding and traffic – those are the biggest problems we hear from people. But we don’t have time to do traffic if we’re just making sure we back each other up.”

Most male police officers have started growing beards in protest of the contract. Many were wearing new dark-blue union T-shirts depicting a crazed gunman on the back with the caption “You wouldn’t face him for a million dollars, but we have to for much less.”

Syphers said police would attend next Monday’s regular City Council meeting, when union representatives will get a chance to speak. More protests are also planned.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “This is a first step to draw attention to what is going on.”

William Schindler, shop steward for the Public Works union, said he was there to support the police.

“We’re in the same boat they are,” Schindler said.

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