By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON TWP. - Concerned about their pay and their future in this rapidly growing township, police officers on Tuesday voted to unionize.
The Fraternal Order of Police was approved as the bargaining agent for the township's seven full-time road patrol officers and lone sergeant.
One officer voted against the union. The township's eight part-timers were not eligible for representation.
"It doesn't bother me," said Police Chief Gene Duvelius, adding that he didn't see the vote as a personal affront.
"It's a natural progression that happens in government entities. It's just something new for us. If it's done for the right reasons, I'm tickled to death if it's for their peace of mind."
Officers did not want to talk publicly about their reasons for seeking union representation. Some have said the small department's full-time officers first started talking about the union last summer after trustees unsuccessfully sought to reclassify ranking officers as fiduciary employees who serve at the will of administration.
The township attorney recommended against it.
At the same time, officers, who were accustomed to receiving free health insurance through the township, became concerned that they would have to pay a portion of those costs when the township changed insurance carriers, Duvelius said. That never materialized.
But, Duvelius said he thinks wages were the central issue.
The average raise for full-time patrolman last year fell to 3 percent, after peaking at 10 percent four years ago when Duvelius tried to stem the exodus of his officers to higher-paying departments.
Even now, starting pay for township road patrol officers is about $30,000, which is lower than most other Warren County agencies, a survey by township police showed.
Duvelius said raises could improve in the near future. The township plans to put replacement levies on the ballot that will increase revenue, because they will be based on current property valuations and envelope many of the 6,000 new homes that are either planned or proposed.
With Tuesday's vote, the police became the second township department to become unionized. Firefighters became members of the International Association of Fire Fighters in Spring 2000.
The next step for police is meeting to appoint union executives, followed by contract negotiations.
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