By Tim Eberly
Officials with the city of Havre and the union representing Havre police officers reached a tentative salary agreement Wednesday night.
The City Council's labor and negotiation committee met with a union representative for three hours before both sides settled on a one-year contract providing the 16 officers in the Montana Public Employees Association a 4 percent pay raise. The contract will also decrease the number of grades in the Havre Police Department from nine to six, which will facilitate officer promotion.
"I thought it went great," City Council member Tom Farnham, chairman of the labor and negotiation committee, said today. "Of course, they would like to have more. But both sides were pretty pleased with it. When your budget's set and your hands are tied, there's not much more you can do."
Until the next City Council meeting on Jan. 7, Farnham and MPEA representative Dick Letang will collaborate on the wording of the one-year contract.
The City Council is expected to vote on the contract Jan. 7. The union also most approve it for it can take effect. The union members will vote early next week.
"It's not approved yet; it's tentative," said Farnham. "We have to crunch some numbers and make sure everybody's happy."
Talks of a strike surfaced after the city and union's last meeting on Dec. 12. Eight months of negotiation had preceded that meeting, and no solution appeared imminent.
The union wanted a 7 percent raise each year of a two-year contract for the top four pay grades, including sergeants, staff sergeants and two levels of lieutenant. It wanted a 4 percent raise for the five grades below sergeant, from probationary officer to master patrol officer.
At that time, Farnham said a 7 percent raise in the second year was not feasible. He said the City Council had already factored in a 3 percent raise for the officers' salary increase and that a 4 percent raise was probably affordable.
Because the negotations lasted eight months, the officers in the union will be paid retroactively to last May. Contract negotiations for next year will begin next March.
"We're going to work on that next year," Farnham said.
Said MEAP representative Dick Letang: "We think it will help retain some of the officers that we're losing. I think there's a little disappointment that they couldn't have done better. But I think they understand that this is as good as it's going to get this year."
He added, "I as a union representative strongly support this tentative agreement and I will urge them to vote in favor of it."