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Rochester council passes $18M arbitration award for city police officers

Police officers standing amid yellow caution tape
Max Schulte
Police stand behind caution tape.

Rochester City Council on Tuesday approved legislation granting $4,000 payments to all police officers on staff between 2020 and 2022, and five years of retroactive wage increases.

The payments stem from a labor arbitration award made between the city and the department’s union, the Rochester Police Locust Club. In total, the amount will raise the department’s budget for the year by $18 million. To cover the costs, the Council bill called for transferring $16.7 million from the city’s contingency and tax relief funds to the department. Another $1.3 million will be transferred to the city’s undistributed funds to cover social security and Medicare obligations.

The bill passed by a vote of 6-to-3, with Council Vice President Mary Lupien and Councilmembers Stanley Martin and Kim Smith voting no after a lengthy debate.

Lupien believed the $4,000 payment was outsized compared to bonuses given to other city employees who worked through the height of the pandemic. For example, an interest arbitration award for IAFF Local 1071, which represents the Rochester Fire Department, also passed Tuesday, consisted of $2,000 payments. Meanwhile, city employees under AFSCME Local 1635, which represents the majority of municipal workers, have received no payout.

“I believe that the garbage collectors, the rec center employees, countless employees that were working during COVID, getting sick, fighting for us, deserve this as well,” Lupien said.

Whether the $4,000 amounted to a COVID bonus became a point of contention between the nay-voters and other members of Council and Mayor Malik Evans. Despite the arbitration award being aimed specifically at officers on the job between March 2020 and March 2022, Evans was adamant that the award was not a COVID-based decision.

“It is not related to COVID, and it is not outlined here as being related to COVID,” Evans said.

The payout to officers will also include salary adjustments of 3% for 2019, 3.5% for 2020, 3.5% for 2021, 4% for 2022, and 4.5% for 2023.

The vote was mostly symbolic. The city was legally obligated to meet the terms of the agreement, which was negotiated by a neutral arbitrator. .

President of the Rochester Police Locust Club Mike Mazzeo said he was disappointed by the Council debate, which he felt focused more on policing than collective bargaining. He also extended support to AFSCME-represented city employees in receiving a payout.

“Our interest award in terms of the quote-unquote COVID money should be looked at in terms of bringing everybody up, not bringing people down,” Mazzeo said. “We are supportive of our brothers and sisters in AFSCME to get that increase, we think it’s the right thing to do.”

In voting no, Martin expressed disappointment in the arbitration process, noting that no representatives from Council were included.

Although meeting the financial demands of the city’s settlement with the unions required Council approval, the Council is not an official party to collective bargaining agreements.

“I do believe that the administration had an opportunity to include representatives of the body, even at the very least the president (Miguel Melendez), in these negotiations,” Martin said. “So when it comes to people not being a part of the conversation, we know for a fact that Council was not part of this conversation, yet we’re being asked to raise the RPD budget by $18 million.”

Officers with the department have been working without a contract since 2019, when the last agreement expired. While the city reached an agreement with the Locust Club in January, the details are still being finalized.

Mazzeo said he sees the award as a win for everyone in the city, and a reasonable ask by the union.

“There are cost factors, like in supply and demand, and right now, demand is very, very high for police officers,” Mazzeo said. “To be competitive, to be able to retain, to be able to hire, you have to set wages a certain way. It’s going this way across the country.”

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.