October 22, 2021

Cortland police file grievance against city

With City Hall closed, union says its members entitled to additional pay

The Cortland police union has filed a grievance against the city for allegedly violating the terms of its collective bargaining agreement, according to an email to the mayor and city aldermen from the city law department.

That contract agreement requires city police to receive extra pay if city hall is
closed, according to the email.

Neither City Attorney Ric VanDonsel nor Mayor Brian Tobin would comment on the grievance, but in the email, VanDonsel informs the mayor and aldermenof “my intention to fight this matter.”

“The procedure will take a while to develop as matters can not (be) heard presently by an administrative judge,” he wrote.

Officer Jeffrey Fitts, president of the city police union, said the contract is an old one dating back more than 30 years that is triggered by “a national emergency and city hall being closed.”

“It’s our contention that those guidelines have been met,” he said. “It’s kind of hazardous duties pay in the time of a national emergency.”

This is the first time the police union has invoked the provision, Fitts said. He added that just because a grievance has been filed does not mean the union and the city can’t work out a compromise.

Alderman Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward) said he was “just totally surprised” by the grievance.

“For the PBA to file this grievance at this time, it’s just disappointing,” he said. “I never would have believed this in a million years if you told me this was going to happen.”

Tytler disputed the idea that city hall is closed. It isn’t, he said.

While most employees are working from home, some are working in the building, although officials have changed the way city hall functions, Tobin has said.

But even if city hall were closed, Tytler said the police union is wrong to bring forward the grievance now.

“This is not the time to ask for more pay. I mean, come on,” he said. “If this were a normal time, I’d get it. But this is not a normal time. This is completely unprecedented.”

Alderman Thomas Michales (R-8th Ward) said he, too, was surprised by the grievance.

“City hall isn’t closed. There is a phone left outside so people can call whoever they need to get a hold of,” Michales said. “I’m not sure why the police are filing this grievance. I’m sure there’s something warranting it, but from what I can see it’s certainly questionable.”

Alderman John Bennett (D-4th Ward) also took issue with the union’s grievance.

“In this time of people dying, millions of people losing their jobs, fear and uncertainty, for our dedicated police officers to be selfish like this at this time hurts me as a citizen and an elected city councilor very deeply!” Bennett wrote in an email. “To say I’ve lost some faith in them is an understatement.”