Salt Lake City police say they won't strike during the Olympics, but the inability of the police association and mayor to agree on a contract means both sides could be back at the bargaining table duking it out when the Olympics are in town next year.
The City Council could approve a one- or multi-year compensation package. If the council opts for a one-year deal, negotiations for the following year's contract would begin Jan. 15 — almost one month before the the Winter Games begin, and a time when several international media and visitors will probably already be in Salt Lake City looking for entertainment.
"Talk about bad timing," police association president David Greer said Thursday. "Really, we ought to get it done now."
Negotiations were effectively ended Wednesday after the police association sent a letter to Mayor Rocky Anderson saying they would agree to meet again, but only with Greer present.
Anderson rejected that offer, saying the association's refusal to negotiate without Greer "ends all avenues for contract negotiations."
The City Council could pass a compensation package that goes longer than one year, making next January's negotiations unnecessary, but that issue hasn't been worked out yet, mayoral spokesman Joshua Ewing said.
"It depends on what the council wants to do," Ewing said. "It doesn't have to be limited to one year. . . . I wouldn't say that we are thinking or worrying about that specific issue right now, although we will be talking with the council on whether we'll do a one-year or multi-year compensation package."
Although Greer said officers will not strike during the Olympics, it's likely they'll picket out-of-uniform during their off-duty time — probably in front of City Hall.
"There would be no effect on the security of the Olympics whatsoever," Greer said. "These are good, solid officers that are excited to be a part of it and are going to give their best service. But that's not to say that's not a good venue to bring our message to the people."
Even if officers did strike, which would mean immediate termination, police brass say there's plenty of help within the department to cover shifts. The city also has agreements with outside agencies in case extra help is needed. During the Olympics more than 2,000 federal agents will also be in town providing extra security.
"I really don't foresee a big problem as far as security," Assistant Police Chief Mac Connole said. "It would just be the tarnished image that it might give the police department. . . . I'd hate to see that."
Others worry how the inability to reach a contract might otherwise affect the roughly 300 police association members.
"I think it's going to affect the morale of our officers," said Samantha Francis, chair of the People's Freeway Community Council. "I think it's going to let the officers know the city government doesn't care about them."
Anderson has repeatedly stated his support for officers, saying they deserve to be paid fairly. But police association members claim the 2.5 percent pay increase over the next two years and a 2 percent increase in the third year does not bring their wages up to par with agencies from similar-sized cities around the country. Anderson says Salt Lake City officers are among the best paid in Utah and the police association's demand for a 6 percent pay increase for each of the next two years is too high.
"We think we've done the best we possibly could in this situation to let them know we do want to hear from them, we do want to support them," Ewing said. "There may or may not be a morale decrease as a result of this, but it won't affect the city."
Ironically, Anderson and Greer both say the city and police association would be best served by working out a contract.
But so far neither side will budge on Greer's involvement in that process.