Police officers petition Victoria for representation

By Brian M. Cuaron - BCUARON@VICAD.COM
Sept. 1, 2011 at 4:01 a.m.
Updated Sept. 2, 2011 at 4:02 a.m.

Victoria Police Department officers have signed a petition asking that their association be recognized as a bargaining agent.

Officers and the department's civilian employees make up the Victoria Police Officers Association. Many of the association's members are also affiliated with the Texas Municipal Police Association.

Out of the department's 116 officers, 104 signed the petition, said City Manager Charmelle Garrett.

The Victoria City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to approve a resolution that would recognize the local association as the officers' bargaining agent, said Mayor Will Armstrong.

If the council votes the resolution down, the matter will go before voters in a city council election in May, said City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz. If the voters reject the measure, another petition couldn't be presented for two years.

The Victoria Police Officers Association wants a "meet and confer" relationship with the city, said officer Jonathan Allen, the association's president. Gwosdz said such an agreement was the lightweight version of two other possible choices, collective bargaining and civil services agreements.

Cities that have a meet and confer relationship with officers generally adopt a contract that covers wages and hours, Gwosdz said. The contract could even cover equipment, staffing levels and the disciplinary process.

However, state law doesn't require cities to come to any agreement with bargaining agents under meet and confer agreements, Gwosdz said. The law only requires that cities meet and discuss with the bargaining agent.

Under meet and confer agreements, all officers must be represented by the bargaining agent - none can opt out - in this case the Victoria Police Officers Association, Gwosdz said. Taxpayers would pay for added administrative costs, Garrett said.

Four out of seven council members said they would vote against the measure.

Council members Denise Rangel and Gabriel Soliz said they needed more information before they made their decision. Councilman David Hagan said he would support the resolution.

Allen said his association would bring its case to the voters if the council rejects the resolution.

He noted that officers are part of the community and that he hoped Victoria residents would back the petition.

Mayor Will Armstrong said there are some inequities in the police department, but that the city's new police chief, Jeff Craig, was working on solving them.

Councilman Joe Truman said he wanted six months for the city management and the new police chief to address the officers' concerns. He said recognizing a bargaining agent would lead to tax increases.

"They (voters) will not support a tax increase, which this will require," Truman said.

Councilman Tom Halepaska said a bargaining agent would increase the city's expenses, but he wasn't sure that money would go toward officers.

Hagan said a bargaining agent allows council to hear directly from officers their concerns. He said there was nothing binding under meet and confer agreements.

Allen said a meet and confer agreement would let officers feel they have a voice.

Allen said the local officers association wouldn't immediately seek pay raises. Yet he noted that pay raises have been talked about for years in the association.

"It may be brought up in the future," said Allen about requests for pay raises.

Allen said officers wouldn't be required to join the local association under a meet and confer agreement.

Members of the Victoria Police Officers Association pay $24 in annual dues, Allen said. Voluntary dues to the Texas Municipal Police Association varies, but is about $28 per month on average.

The dues wouldn't change if a meet and confer agreement passed, Allen said.

The Texas Municipal Police Association counseled Allen as he put together the petition, said Mark Jameson, a board member with the Texas association. An attorney in Austin looked over the petition before it was presented.

Jameson said his association wasn't a union, partly because it didn't advocate strikes, walkouts or picketing.

"I guess to some degree we are a union because we have a common goal and are united," Jameson said.

"But we don't conduct ourselves like a lot of people think of unions."



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