MY VIEW/Sean McGowan – A punch in the belly from the City

MY VIEW/Sean McGowan – A punch in the belly from the City

I write this article in an attempt to express to the public, and to the Alexandria City government, the level of frustration and anger being felt by members of the Alexandria Police Benevolent Association. 

Conversations with my members, and with the leaders of other labor organizations, prompt me to put into words what we are feeling.
Picture this scene in your mind:  Two people are walking down a road, one person represents Labor and the other person represents Alexandria City government. 

Together they are walking down the road of Pay and Benefits, Health Care, Retirement, Cost of Living, Market Rate Adjustment and Job Benchmarking. 

The City has its arm on the shoulder of Labor and is calmly talking about the future, patience with the system, consultant studies and hope for better budget years. 

The City has its other hand at its side, just out of sight of Labor. 

As the City speaks of the future and promises to make Labor a budgetary priority, it is balling its hidden hand into a tight fist.  As Labor leans in, listening, hoping for more promises and words of encouragement the City takes its hidden fist and buries it in Labors belly with a swift upper cut, just below the ribs. 

Labor hits the ground, where it has been so many times before, and looks up at the City, unable to speak from the pain.  The City looks down and the words we have heard over and over again ring out once more, Sorry, its a difficult budget year.
We are once again faced with budget decisions that do more harm than good when it comes to pay and benefits.  The City is prepared to give employees a one time $500 bonus check and give employees who are at the top of their pay scale a one time, two percent bonus. 

On its face one would think that a bonus is good but deeper investigation shows how harmful it will be.  Since the increases are a one time bonus there is no increase in salary.  This sets our employees back again when it comes to keeping pace with the market and the horrendous cost of living in this area.  The damage to our employees retirement benefits are noteworthy, affecting every employee who retires from the City of Alexandria, for the rest of their lives.  With rising health care costs for employees, and no cost of living adjustment many will actually experience a reduction in take home pay.  
We faithfully attend labor management meetings with the city, pay and benefit meetings with the city, and health care meetings with the city.  At these meetings we present case after case of unfair pay practices and evidence of a broken compensation system. 

The city staff agrees with all of our points.  The historical evidence shows how the system got broken, Labor and the City all agree on that. 

Being in agreement on the evidence should give a clear direction toward fixing the system, but the City has chosen to repeat the same mistakes that broke the system in the first place. 

By not funding a reasonable cost of living adjustment and giving a one time bonus they compound the damage to an already catastrophically broken pay system.  Every problem with the pay and compensation system is made worse.
I now hear talk from our city leaders that the only way out of this budget mess is to change the way we do business. I wonder if that means the City will start putting their employees at the top of their list of priorities instead of attempting to balance the budget on the backs of our work force.

Speaking on behalf of the 300 police officers and civilian police employees I represent I want to assure the citizens of Alexandria that they remain our priority. 

The concerns I have detailed, and our feelings of betrayal by the city government, do not, and never will, manifest into a reduction of services to our community. 

When you call the police for help, or come to the station for services, you will experience the same professional service we have always prided ourselves in.  Our patrol officers and specialized units will be there to protect you, your loved ones and your property 24 hours a day, 365 days a year   on that you can rely.  
A wise Alexandria Police detective, totally frustrated by how the city government treats its employees, once said to me I dont work for the city, I am a private contractor working for the victims of crime who need my help.
Members of this police department love their jobs. This is the reason we stay amid all of the compensation problems.

Ask any officer you see on the street if they feel they are fairly compensated for their work, most will say no.  Ask the same officer if they have plans to leave the City of Alexandria Police Department, most will say no.
Sean McGowan is president of the Alexandria Police Benevolent Association and has been proudly serving in the Alexandria Police Dept. since 1984.