EAST PEORIA — The question arose as the East Peoria City Council debated Tuesday night the contents of a three-year contract with the city's police union that no one seemed to like.
"What is our recourse if we vote no (on the contract)?" Commissioner Dan Decker asked.
"There really isn't any," said city attorney Dennis Triggs, who negotiated the deal.
And so, the council narrowly approved a three-year contract with the police union that gives its 47 members annual raises of at least 2 percent, bigger than raises given other city department employees. The vote was 3-2 in favor of the contract. Commissioners Decker and Tim Jeffers and Mayor Dave Mingus approved the contract. Commissioners Gary Densberger and John Kahl opposed it.
The agreement gives union members a 2 percent increase in their pay retroactive to May 1 2016, and 2.25 percent each of the next two years. The raise is .5 percent higher than recent contracts approved for the public works and fire departments and for emergency dispatchers, and is the result of an arbitrator's decision.
Densberger said the arbitrator made a bad decision.
"My main issue is with the arbitrator," Densberger said. "I'm truly disappointed that he seemed to discount the facts and financial condition of the city right now and chose to go with the union proposal."
The city entered negotiations last spring offering annual raises of 1.5 percent, a lower-than-usual number that reflected the city's current financial woes. The union asked for raises of 2 percent, and 2.25 percent in the second and third years of the contract. An impasse was reached, for the second consecutive contract bargaining process, and an arbitrator was assigned to the negotiations. At a hearing in July, the arbitrator heard the cases made by both sides. And on Sept. 20, the arbitrator sided with the Policemen's Benevolent Labor Committee.
The city recently agreed to three-year contracts with 1.75 percent raises for employees in the fire and public works departments and with emergency dispatchers. The police union never agreed to 1.75 percent raises for the police and the city withdrew the offer, leaving the arbitrator to consider only the city's 1.5 percent offer and the union's position of 2 percent-plus.
Tuesday's meeting grew contentious as the vote neared. Kahl made a speech about his reasons for supporting 1.75 percent raises for the Fire Department, which he oversees as the commissioner of public safety and health, but not for the Police Department. Kahl said he supported above-average salaries for the police, but that salaries had spiraled out of control.
"We can't afford what the (police union) is asking for," Kahl said. "Period. End of story."
Then it the mayor's turn to speak.
"It's hypocritical to say one contract went one way and another contract went another way," Mingus said.
Then both men were talking.
"Can you control yourself?" Mingus said to Kahl.
"You called me a hypocrite," Kahl said.
"No, I said it was hypocritical," Mingus said.
"Who were you referring to?" Kahl asked.
"If it fits," MIngus said.
During ending remarks, Kahl apologized for speaking over the mayor when it was the mayor's turn to talk. But he stood firm on his opposition to what he saw as excesses in the police contract.
The new contract expires in two years.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.