FOP votes down commanders entering Pittsburgh police union

Shelly Bradbury

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh police commanders will not be joining the Fraternal Order of Police.

On Tuesday, union members voted, 244-86, against allowing the 12 commanders into FOP Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1. That turnout represented about 30 percent of the membership, said FOP President Robert Swartzwelder.

“The FOP is pleased with the turnout and the fair result,” he said.

Joining the union would have given commanders more leverage to negotiate on issues such as benefits and hours, and it also would have allowed the commanders to move outside the city limits.

The state Supreme Court ruled in May that Pittsburgh police officers no longer could be forced to reside within the city limits as long as they lived within 25 air-miles of the City-County Building on Grant Street.

As non-union city employees, however, commanders are still bound by the city’s residency requirement and must live in Pittsburgh.

Despite the timing of Tuesday’s vote — just a month after the state Supreme Court decision — the push to join the FOP was about more than residency and had been discussed for some time, Zone 6 Cmdr. Stephen Vinansky said.

“I personally have no desire to sell my house,” he said. “I’m happy where I live. And most of us fall into that category. There is just a sense of security that comes with being part of a collective-bargaining unit.

“If you have an opportunity to have a collective-bargaining unit represent you, why wouldn’t you try to have some assurances and benefits and everything else that comes with it?” he said.

He does worry that the residency requirement could reduce the number of police who are eligible to become commanders in the future, he said. If sergeants or lieutenants move outside the city now, they would have to move back to be eligible to be promoted to commander.

“In that scenario, you’re limiting your pool of promotable leaders,” Cmdr. Vinansky said.

The 12 commanders in the Bureau of Police oversee the city’s zone stations and special units. The city currently classifies commanders as supervisors who are not eligible to be part of the collective-bargaining unit, said Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff.

That’s in part because commanders have “disciplinary and budgetary responsibilities,” said Timothy McNulty, a spokesman for Mr. Peduto. He declined to go into further detail, other than to say that the mayor was pleased with the vote.

Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said commanders cannot discipline officers without approval from higher-ups in the bureau.

“Commanders can only counsel officers without oversight,” she said. “Discipline has to go up the command chain.”

Had FOP members voted to allow commanders in, the issue would have gone to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, which decides on a case-by-case basis whether police leadership can join unions. Whether the leaders have disciplinary power is one of several factors the board considers.

In past decisions in other jurisdictions, the board has relied on a 1989 state Supreme Court opinion that established six criteria for determining whether police leaders can join a collective-bargaining unit.

Under that decision, leaders who have significant roles in an agency’s policy formation and implementation, personnel hiring and serious disciplining, purchasing and public relations are ineligible to join collective bargaining units.

Pittsburgh firefighters are eligible to be part of their union, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 1, until they become assistant chiefs or the chief, president Ralph Sicuro said. Deputy chiefs, battalion chiefs captains and lieutenants are all part of the union.

For city paramedics, the union consists solely of EMTs and paramedics, said Jeff Tremel, president of the Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics Local 1. District chiefs, division chiefs, deputy chiefs, assistant chiefs and the chief are all non-union.

Shelly Bradbury: 412-263-1999, or follow on Twitter @ShellyBradbury. Staff writer Paula Reed Ward contributed.


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