Tensions rise after City cancels contract negotiations with Police Union

PITTSBURGH — Target 11 broke the story Tuesday night that the city canceled contract negotiations set for this Thursday with the Police Officers’ union.

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The union said the attorney representing the city told them the city doesn’t have any more money to offer them.

Less than 24 hours later, in a rare and unprecedented move, two high-ranking officials in the Mayor’s administration went on the radio to address the police contract.

Deputy Mayor Jake Pawlak and Chief Operating Officer Lisa Frank defended the city’s negotiations with the Police Union and said they offered hefty raises, especially to newer officers.

“As far back as we have record, this would be the biggest wage increase in a single contract that’s been offered the last 30 years,” said Pawlak.

Police Union President Bob Swartzwelder sent an emergency email to all union members Tuesday night alerting them that the city had canceled negotiations.

Swartzwelder said the attorney for the city told the union, “...Due to City budget constraints, the city was incapable of offering anything more than the original last offer ...The city was unsure whether they could even meet the financial obligations of the original offer.”

The contract controversy and stalemate drew a strong response from Pittsburgh City Councilman Anthony Coghill, an outspoken supporter of the police.

“If this administration doesn’t come up with the correct finances to put in place to incentives them to stay I believe we will see a mass exodus,” said Coghill.

Target 11 has learned that 12 officers have already resigned or retired since the beginning of the year. Many are leaving for higher pay and less stress at suburban departments, where they can typically pull in six-figure jobs.

The departures have left the city with 830 officers. The city is budgeted for 900. Under the Peduto administration, at one point, there were 1050. Under the Ravenstahl administration, while the city was still in the financially-distressed status of Act 47, the number dropped to a low of 750.

Coghill fears the number may drop below 750 before another academy class is ready to hit the streets. He expects at least 150 officers to leave before a new class is finished.

“We’re going to lose another 150 officers at the clip we are going now. The numbers don’t lie Rick. They are very troubling,” said Coghill.

Pawlak and frank said they also want the contract to address the massive overtime younger officers are being forced to work and create a disciplinary process that’s fair to every officer.

Despite the stalemate, Pawlak offered praise during his radio interview.

“I’m enormously proud of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the officers who wake up every day potentially putting their lives on the line to protect everyone who lives in our city and our region,” said Pawlak.

The police union said it would not comment out of respect for the funeral of Brackenridge Police Chief Justin McIntire.

With negotiations at a stalemate, it appears the contract controversy will be headed to arbitration.

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