St. Paul police officers are stepping up the pressure for a new contract and better pay, calling current wages an embarrassment.
The city ranks 22nd out of 27 metro departments in pay, the St. Paul Police Federation said in a recently launched media campaign urging the public to press Mayor Chris Coleman on the issue.
"We're going to lose people, and we're not going to have good retention and recruitment," said federation president Dave Titus. "That's just the bottom line. And the mayor refuses to accept that."
Police have been working the past 10 months without a contract. The union declined an offer for a 1.5 percent pay increase this year. That proposal included a 2 percent raise in 2014 and 2015. Coleman said in a written statement that he offered the same percentage in raises to all other city departments.
"I strongly believe in equity and parity among our City workers," Coleman wrote. "Going beyond that for just one division of our city workers would not only be unfair to other city workers, but would also stretch taxpayer dollars well beyond our budget."
St. Paul officers make about $9,000 less each year than an Eden Prairie officer, the highest-paid department in the metro area, Titus said. That number is based on a 30-year career comparison. About 80 percent of St. Paul officers made more than $70,000 in 2012, said Joe Campbell, Coleman's spokesman.
When total compensation, including benefits, is counted, St. Paul officers are in the top five in the metro, Coleman wrote. "That is something that I am proud of. I believe that the competitive compensation package and high-quality work environment that our officers receive is second to none."
Campbell said Coleman was unavailable for comment beyond the written statement. Campbell also said he could not provide figures for benefit packages and did not know how the department's human resources staff made its calculations. "There's formulas that HR people do that I don't have in front of me," he said.
Titus said Coleman's numbers are "inaccurate and misleading." In his calculations, Coleman added benefits that other departments don't count in their total compensation package, Titus said. "So they're not comparing apples to apples," Titus said. "His figures are absolutely fraudulent in that (written statement) he sends out."
The union campaign includes social media, television and print. The television ad features St. Paul officers Dan King and Brian Wanschura recounting an ambush in which officers were shot at and survived.
"We have a very dangerous job. We should be compensated for that," Titus said. "At the same time, we have to make sure we have very qualified candidates that face that danger and succeed."
Campbell said the mayor has added 39 police officers to the force since he took office in 2006. The number of sworn officers --- 615 --- is the highest number that has ever served the city, he said.
Coleman also increased the police department's budget by 27 percent to add squad cars, training programs, and enhance the crime lab, according to Campbell.
"Public safety has consistently been my top priority since I took office," Coleman wrote.
This is the third such campaign the federation has launched. The first campaign, launched when former St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly was in office, resulted in a pay increase bringing them to the seventh top-paid in the metro. A second campaign under Coleman in 2007 was unsuccessful, Titus said. In recent weeks, union representatives met with the mayor's staff, but "there was no movement to correct the issue," so they reached out to the public, Titus said.
"It's extremely frustrating for us that he'll praise us to anyone that will listen," Titus said of the mayor. "But he's not willing to pay for quality officers."
Contract negotiations between the union and the city are escalating into arbitration, Titus said. "I'm not an optimistic person," Titus said. "But it's to the point where we need to try. We have to try something because the mayor isn't hearing us."
UPDATE: After this story was published, the mayor's office provided more detail on police benefits packages. Spokesman Joe Campbell said a police officer with 20 years experience receives about $120,000 a year in total compensation, including wages, health insurance, retirement benefits, severance pay, sick leave, uniform allowances and other benefits and compensation.