Target 11: Police officers’ union president speaks out after contract negotiations are stalled

PITTSBURGH — The rhetoric is heating up between the Mayor’s administration and the Pittsburgh Police Officers’ Union.  After two high-ranking members of the Mayor’s administration went on the radio yesterday to address the stalled contract negotiations, the President of the Police Officers’ Union is responding today.

Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle spoke one-on-one with the Union president today.

Swartzwelder: If they were really interested in settling, they would have at least sat down with us on Thursday whether we came to an agreement or not is another matter, but they avoided even sitting down with us.

Earle: Is that a slap in the face?

Swartzwelder: I call it a punch in the face because if you’re trying to legitimately bargain a contract, you at least sit down and give the other side an opportunity to be heard and vice versa.  They set the meeting with their city attorney who’s representing them.  We agreed to go there, and we have been sending them paperwork and emails trying to get a meeting since the last year after the vote, and we have not been able to get a  meeting until January 12th, and then they canceled it two days before.

Police union president Bob Swartzwelder said he was blindsided when the city canceled contract negotiations, and then went on the radio to speak out about it, on the same day Brackenridge Police Chief Justin McIntire was laid to rest.

“I just thought that was in poor taste and I’ve never seen them do than ever before,” said Swartzwelder, who’s been the Union President for 7 years.

The two officials from the Mayor’s office who went on the airwaves Wednesday said they offered officers the biggest pay raise in decades.

The union declined the contract offer last year.

And Swartzwelder said even with the raises the salaries are still well below both county and a number of suburban law enforcement departments.

Swartzwelder said the administration told him they canceled the talks because they don’t have any more money to offer, but Swartzwelder claims the city is sitting on millions of dollars from the federal government in the form of American Rescue Plan funding.

“Our estimation is they have 65 to 70 million of ARPA funds that the president continues to say fund the police and they haven’t touched it,” said Swartzwelder.

At the weekly Pittsburgh Police Bureau news conference that’s been on hiatus for several weeks, Mayor Ed Gainey stood by the last contract offer.

“We put one of the most aggressive contracts for the fop out that’s been out there for a long time, that’s for sure you can look at the contract and see that. we understand that the men in blue, or men in blue need help,” said Mayor Gainey.

While that may be the case, Swartzwelder contends many officers just don’t feel appreciated by the administration.

And he pointed to the recent case involving two officers who took down the suspected cop killer during a fierce gun battle, but Swartzwelder claimed, never heard from the Mayor or his staff after the incident.

“You had two of your own, two city of Pittsburgh Police Officers nearly murdered, at close range in the dark, by an automatic weapon. It’s horrifying and to me I just think it shows disrespect for what these officers are required to do that you couldn’t even make a phone call.  We’re very fortunate we didn’t have three funerals,” said Swartzwelder.

Mayor Gainey did send out a news release offering “thoughts…to the officers who were injured” in that shooting in Homewood.

There are no more negotiations scheduled and it appears likely that the contract will now go straight to arbitration.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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