Havre Daily News
Havre police union representatives and city negotiators reached tentative agreement on a new labor contract Wednesday night, meaning negotiations that have lasted nearly eight months could soon come to a conclusion.
If ratified by union members, the two-year agreement will give police officers a 3 percent raise - retroactive to July 1 - this year and a 3.5 percent raise for the second year. City and union officials also agreed on a holiday compensation package, a procedure for settling next year's health insurance costs, and a tentative schedule for police officers.
Montana Public Employees Association representative Tom Bivins said he will begin sending cover letters explaining the deal to officers next week, along with ballots for a union vote. He said he has a “reasonable feeling” that officers will ratify the agreement.
“I feel we struggled at times,” Bivins said of the negotiations. “But I think we have an acceptable product here.”
At the end of the meeting, Havre police Sgt. Bill Wilkinson, Lt. Russ Ostwalt and Sgt. Jerry Nystrom indicated they were satisfied with the agreement.
The union's main item of contention, a city proposal officers said would eliminate overtime, was taken off the table before Wednesday's meeting after it was introduced in a session just two weeks ago.
Havre City Council member Terry Schend, who chairs the council's Labor Relations Committee, said the proposal was dropped because negotiations likely would have dragged on if it were kept on the table.
“It was a drastic change that probably wouldn't work at this point, because it would cloud the issues,” Schend said.
Schend said he was satisfied with the tentative agreement, which he said was favorable to both the city and the union.
Both parties came to an agreement on another divisive issue - holiday compensation.
For years, the city has given officers 96 hours in banked compensatory time at the beginning of each year in lieu of cash payment for holidays. Officers had to take that time off before the year's end or risk losing it.
The city agreed to a proposal from Bivins that eliminated the deadline and awarded officers 100 hours of comp time.
Union members and city negotiators also agreed on a tentative schedule that will eliminate 10-hour shifts and add flexibility. Ostwalt said today that the current schedule makes it difficult for officers to take time off for training or vacation.
“The coverage will be just as good or better than the schedule we're on now,” Ostwalt added.
Both parties also agreed to allow the city's insurance committee, made up of union and nonunion employees, to settle next year's health insurance package.