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Strickland proposes 3% raises for Memphis public safety; unions say they were left out of talks

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mayor Jim Strickland is proposing a 3 percent raise for public safety employees this year, but union representatives aren't happy with how the process is being handled.

Strickland made the announcement Wednesday that the increase is included in his budget, which will be presented to City Council April 16.

"I am committed to recruiting and retaining quality employees, and I understand that this requires making the right investments to keep us competitive. This year, I’m pleased to announce a proposed 3 percent increase in pay for our public safety employees in our budget,” Strickland said in a statement.

Strickland estimated the cost to the city for the pay increases would be around $8 million to $9 million. He said the city gains about $10 million a year in revenues without tax increases, and most of that increase would go toward public safety.

"This is all the city can do," he said.

Memphis Fire Fighter's Association President Thomas Malone said his group didn't know the mayor had decided to budget a 3 percent raise, or that it would be announced to the press Wednesday. He said the two sides were about to start negotiations when he heard the news.

"We are sitting at the table waiting on some documentation on some things, try to get numbers and figures and then — boom — they dropped the hammer," Malone said. "They came in today, dropped it off. This is my last offer. What kind of negotiating is that? That’s the way you negotiate with your kids. Not grown people."

He said the firefighters' union would offer a counter-proposal next Wednesday.

John Covington, chief negotiator for the Memphis Police Association, said the group was cautiously optimistic when it began negotiations on pay raises, until Wednesday's announcement.

"We know now the administration did not intend to negotiate," Covington said. "In the middle of the negotiation sessions, the city made its last best offer and announced to its employees and public this was so."

Covington said the city's wages for police were not competitive, and that prior to 2016, officers had gone six years without a raise.

"In fact, MPD wages are less than Bartlett, Germantown, Collierville and Shelby County Sheriff’s Department," he said.

According to the city, since 2016, Memphis police officers have received pay raises between 8.75 percent and 10.75 and bonuses between $2,100 and $7,000, depending on how long they have been commissioned. Fire department employees have received raises totaling 9 percent and a $500 bonus in that time, the city said.

The city did not offer raises last year.

The number of public safety employees in Memphis,especially police officers, dwindled following benefit cuts by the city in 2014. Strickland said the increases in pay and recruiting effort had boosted the number of officers and maintained the number of firefighters.

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