Tucson’s police union dropped its lawsuit against the city over the sick-leave sell-back program, for now.
In June, the Tucson Police Officer’s Association sued the city after it stopped counting the selling back of unused sick days toward police and fire employees’ pensions.
The union decided to suspend the lawsuit since it and the city’s other three unions will enter comprehensive labor negotiations with the city soon.
Jason Winsky, TPOA government affairs director, said the city informed the union last week that labor talks would start within the next few weeks.
“The city is going to open the contract sooner than normally expected,” Winsky said, noting that labor contracts don’t expire until next June.
Since sick-leave sell-back is certain to be a major part of this year’s negotiations, Winsky said there was no good reason to move forward with the lawsuit at this time when the union can just fight for restoring the pension aspect of sick-leave sell-back at the bargaining table.
“The city has made it clear that they will argue against sick-leave sell-back,” Winsky said. “Sick -leave sell-back is an express benefit in our contracts. And during talks, we will vigorously defend that benefit.”
Each year, veteran police and fire employees are allowed to exchange a portion of their unused sick days for cash, a practice that costs the city about $2.6 million a year in direct payments and additional pension expenses.
Supporters of the practice say it’s a way to reward longtime employees for sticking with the city despite not receiving raises over the years. Critics argue it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars.
While the benefit has been a part of public safety employee contracts for more than a decade, City Attorney Mike Rankin issued an opinion earlier this year that state law prohibits a city from applying those dollars toward an employees’ pension.
By ending the pension aspect of sick-leave sell-back, the city would save more than $1 million this year.
Although TPOA dropped its lawsuit, it did so without prejudice. That means the union can refile it at a later date.