City police officers unionize

Move called an effort to halt loss of staff

Westminster

January 10, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

More than two dozen members of the Westminster Police Department have joined a union in a bid to improve wages and benefits, and to prevent officers from leaving for higher-paying jobs.

The police union chapter was established late last month under a charter from the International Union of Police Associations, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. City officials and Westminster police Chief Roger Joneckis were informed of the union activity Monday.

Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based union, said 28 of 34 Westminster police officers eligible to join the union have become members.

"The city cannot afford to train officers only to lose them in a few years," Westminster police Sgt. Mike Augerinos, vice president of the new union, said in a news release. "We want to eliminate the temptation to simply use Westminster as a starting point from which to move on to better-paying departments in the area."

The new union chapter also wants to reduce the length of service before qualifying for retirement from 30 years to 25 years, according to Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan.

Before the new union can negotiate with the city, it must be approved by voters or by the city's Common Council, Yowan said.

"My understanding is, for us to get to a point where there would be collective bargaining, the city would have to agree to it," he said. "In lieu of that, voters could approve it on a referendum."

Yowan said he was puzzled by the officers' decision to unionize. He said the city has been working for the past two years to improve wages and benefits for its police officers.

"I don't understand it," Yowan said. "Last July, police officers got $1,250 extra across the board that no other employee got. We're trying to become more competitive, to be able to attract more officers and to retain officers."

The average police salary has increased by 16.9 percent since January 1999, Yowan said. Average starting salary for a police officer in Westminster is $28,000. In Baltimore, starting pay for patrol officers will be $35,784 next year.

The International Union of Police Associations represents more than 80,000 active-duty officers and law enforcement support staff nationwide, according to a press release from the union.

Neither Joneckis nor Yowan has met with local or national union representatives, they said.

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