Police unions reject Federal Way health care plan

Three unions that represent the Federal Way Police Department voted no on changing health care providers for city employees.

The change, which would have saved the city nearly $619,000 with all parties on board, will now save approximately $300,000. This will cost the city jobs, likely in the police department, according to Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest.

The city had been talking with staff and administrators since the summer regarding a change in health care providers. Federal Way is currently a part of a consortium through the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), and will strike out on its own as a cost savings measure. As part of that change from consortium member to independent entity, Federal Way will also change from Regence to Group Health Cooperative for employee health benefits.

Priest expressed his disappointment at the three police unions — the Police Officers Guild, the Lieutenant’s Police Association and the Police Support Services Association — not coming along with the change. Priest took the chance to admonish them for not standing together with the city and the rest of its employees.

“It turns out, quite frankly, that I was overly optimistic in thinking that the job-saving feature would appeal to all,” he said. “The parks, public works, maintenance and court clerks and teamsters group agreed to accept the change. I want to thank them for working together with us to save jobs. However, the largest represented groups, our police officers, lieutenants and noncommissioned personnel, had a chance in front of them to save an additional $319,000 a year to be used to save their colleagues’ jobs, as well as their own, but chose not to. And for that, I am frankly surprised and disappointed.”

The Mirror attempted to contact representatives from the three Federal Way police guilds, and was unable to reach two of the representatives. The third representative, Stephen Hansen, who represents the Lieutenant's Police Officer Association, said that group had no official comment at this time regarding the decision.

The mayor did acknowledge that the entire city staff, police included, have been attempting to meet the goal of his idea of “frugal innovation.” Priest said the police department had previously worked with city leadership to reduce costs while still providing high levels of service. However, he noted that the police unions’ rejection of this proposal will have consequences.

The lost savings of $300,000 to $400,000 represents four police officers on an annual basis, he said. “It is an opportunity, which, unfortunately, will be very difficult to recover.”

Outside of the lost savings, the city’s ability to accept a federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant may be compromised. That means there’s a distinct possibility further positions will be lost within the police department.

“Another issue that concerns us has to do with the COPS grant, as we also announced we were awarded by the Department of Justice, the COPS grant, for $805,345. As a result of this decision today, and the fact we do not have the $300,000, it may make it a lot more difficult to accept the COPS grant,” Priest said.

Part of the issue with this grant, the mayor shared, is that any position initially funded by the grant eventually must be funded by the city after a three-year period. Priest said the city has until Dec. 27 to determine whether it could accept that COPS grant. The health care change will happen for those non-union employees and the union employees who agreed to the change on Jan. 1, 2012.


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