Pensions

Miami should restore pre-recession pay and pensions for police, hearing officer says

Miami officials ought to reinstate pre-recession salaries and pension benefits for their 1,300-member police force after improperly imposing cuts on employees seven years ago during a financial crisis, according to a state hearing officer.

Joey Rix, wading once again into the long-running legal saga between the city of Miami and its police union over unilateral cuts made by city commissioners in 2010, recommended Thursday that Florida’s Public Employees Relations Commission tell the city to rescind the forced changes to officers’ wages, healthcare and pensions.

He said the city, which lost a crucial case against the Fraternal Order of Police in March before the Florida Supreme Court, should return its police force to the pre-existing contract that elected leaders deemed too rich to continue in the face of what at the time was a massive budget hole.

Rix’s recommendation is just that, a recommendation. The Public Employees Relations Commission, a legal body tasked with handling government employee and union disputes, will make the more binding decision.

But Rix’s written findings, released Thursday, reflect yet another win by the Fraternal Order of Police, which earlier this year convinced the state’s high court to overturn lower court decisions upholding the city’s unilateral cuts. Then, in May, the union convinced the Public Employees Relations Commission that the city had improperly slashed their collective bargaining agreement without going through the proper legal steps.

Rix’s recommendation — though non-binding and open to interpretation — would also seem to give the city’s unions more leverage in their attempt to negotiate a settlement for improved compensation.

Tweeting a copy of the recommendation at Mayor Tomás Regalado Thursday, Union President Lt. Javier Ortiz said “you owe us about 200 million. That’s a lot of pastelitos.”

Miami’s mayor and city attorney, on the other hand, remain even-keeled.

In a letter to city commissioners, City Attorney Victoria Méndez said her staff is “still reviewing the order and its implications as there are different ways to interpret this order.” Regalado said in an interview that the city is already attempting to negotiate a settlement with its police union and fire union, which also has a pending lawsuit against the city over 2010 contract cuts.

“This is not a bombshell,” he said.

Exactly what the city is negotiating with its unions isn’t clear.

Ortiz declined to provide a Herald reporter the union’s proposed settlement to the city, and City Manager Daniel Alfonso said he needed to seek legal guidance before responding to a public records request. But it’s possible that a victory by the police union could put the city and its taxpayers in a crunch in future years, given that the cuts in question were believed to have saved the city as much as $100 million in the first year alone.

Regalado has said that, whatever the outcome, it wouldn’t affect his $1 billion 2018 budget.

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