Walla Walla police officers should not have had to go to binding arbitration to get a reasonable pay raise.
Yet they did, and the cause of the salary dispute was brought on by a lousy decision to give the city government’s top managers unbelievably high pay raises in 2011.
The officers, on principle, felt compelled to stand their ground — and they made the right call.
City administrators and the Police Guild have been butting heads over compensation since 2012, a year after the cops agreed to accept a pay freeze as the city’s tax revenue was slow because of the Great Recession that had hit the nation. It was the first contract that has gone to an arbitrator since 1986.
The officers insisted on a raise because just two months after they played ball with City Hall on the pay freeze the city’s top managers were granted across-the-board 7.1 percent pay raises. The police chief, fire chief and support services director saw their salaries increase to over $125,000 year. In addition, 21 other non-represented city employees received 5-7 percent pay increases that year.
As we said at the time, those increases are outrageous under the economic circumstances in 2011. Our jab was not a judgment on the job performances of the city’s key department heads, it was based solely on the incredibly lousy timing.
It is absurd for the bosses to get hefty raises while some of the workers, like the cops, get zilch.
City Manager Nabiel Shawa and the City Council created an unnecessary political controversy at the time — and the hard feelings were still being felt in 2014.
Police Guild members held firm on 5 percent pay increases for 2013, and 4 percent increases for 2014 and 2015.
Who can blame them for asking for that amount after what they saw going on at City Hall?
Since police officers are not allowed to go on strike by law as a matter of public safety, the disputes are settled by binding arbitration, meaning both sides agree to accept what the arbitrator decides.
The arbitrator ruled Police Guild members would receive retroactive pay increases of 2.5 percent for 2013 and 2014, and a 3 percent increase for 2015.
It’s a reasonable decision, although it probably doesn’t take all the sting out of agreeing to pay freezes in 2011.
Let’s hope City Council members grasp that outlandish pay raises such as those they granted to top managers create financial reverberations and hard feelings that can be felt for years.