Six months after the contract between the Fresno Police Officers’ Association and the City of Fresno expired, both sides are not any closer to reaching a new deal.
The contract between both parties expired last June, and negotiations at the bargaining table in the time since have not bore any fruit.
Instead, those negotiations resulted in a contract proposal from the city which was soundly rejected by Fresno’s police officers last week with 81.3 percent of voting members rejecting the deal, something that FPOA president Brandon Wiemiller said has not been seen in the last 50 years.
“To do so to the tune of 81 percent is a pretty strong united message, and the longer that this drags out and the longer that a city is at odds with its own police officers is terrible for morale, is terrible for recruiting,” Wiemiller told The Sun.
“As hard as it is to recruit now, if people from the outside looking in see a city at war with their own police officers, that would be devastating on a scale I can’t imagine.”
According to an email sent from FPOA leadership to its members, internal comments about the proposal revealed that 50 percent of the officers who submitted remarks were opposed to the offer because of inadequate compensation and a new scheduling system.
An additional 29 percent cited the scheduling change as the lone reason for opposition while another 17 percent took issue purely with the proposed compensation.
Many comments from the officers referenced the Fresno Police Department no longer being the premier agency of choice for cadets due to prestige and pay.
Under the previous contract, which officers are still paid under, they sign up annually for their shift and district by seniority. The proposal would have removed the annual signups and instituted a transfer program instead when vacancies appear within the patrol schedule.
Wiemiller declined to reveal the specifics regarding the discussion around compensation, but did note that there is about a $20,000-$30,000 gap in annual compensation for Fresno Police Officers when compared to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department.
Wiemiller also pointed to Fresno police officers taking on a much greater call volume than other local agencies, leading to a greater caseload for investigators and more dangerous situations that the officers are faced with.
“When you’re asking potential job hires to take on that kind of workload for equal or even less than your neighboring agencies, it makes it almost impossible to recruit and retain people, and ultimately that staffing crisis has led to officers running at a redline pace for their entire shift just to try and keep up with calls,” Wiemiller said.
“Their days off are no longer days off because they’re getting mandated to work overtime shifts on their days off to fill in staffing gaps. And when you run officers at that level for any length of time, you’re going to break them physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Wiemiller said the cycle is going to “snowball on itself” if it does not get corrected soon.
“You have citizens waiting days for a police response when their house or their car or their business gets broken into,” Wiemiller said. “Sometimes they’re told no cop is coming, file your own report online. It’s unacceptable. It was overwhelmingly voted down because the members recognized that it wasn’t going to adequately address the crisis we’re facing.”
Although Wiemiller said the common consensus is that the Fresno Police Department should have 1,000 officers on staff, the department is currently authorized for 851 officers.
“Everyone acknowledges that that number is woefully inadequate,” Wiemiller said.
To make matters worse, the department currently has 79 vacancies as 772 officers are currently on staff, and many officers are currently not working because of COVID-19 and various injuries.
Wiemiller estimates that the department is operating closer to about 650-660 active officers.
“We’re trying to do the work of 1,000 cops with 650, and it’s not sustainable,” Wiemiller said.
Another issue that gets overlooked with a non-competitive contract, Wiemiller said, is that the city will be unable to hire top recruits. Instead, Fresno will be left with scraping the bottom of the barrel for recruits, which could turn into long-term liability issues in the future.
“The folks coming out of the academy – we’re not going to get the best and the brightest,” Wiemiller said. “We’re going to get the leftovers after the best and the brightest have chosen those other agencies.”
If the FPOA and the city do not come to an agreement, the union can declare an impasse, which would send both sides in front to arbitration.
The FPOA would present its case arguing that its asks are justified and needed based on staffing, recruiting crisis and the record-high crime in recent years.
The FPOA would also need to prove that the city can afford to pay for the union’s requests.
After hearing the arguments from the FPOA and the city, the arbitrator would present a recommendation for a new contract which would be turned over to the Fresno City Council for consideration.
“I’m surprised that I’m having to try and convince a city that they should want their police department to be made whole, that they should want their police department fully staffed,” Wiemiller said.
“It’s bizarre for sure.”