Police officers and firefighters will not be among the New Orleans city workers in line for a merit raise in 2015, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration said Thursday.
A merit pay increase for civil service employees is part of the city’s massive overhaul of the civil service system, known as the “Great Place to Work Initiative,” that went into effect this year.
City employees who receive a performance evaluation of “competent or above” will be eligible for 1.25 percent pay raises in both 2015 and 2016, provided the raises would not put their pay over specified maximums for their jobs.
But the city has essentially written New Orleans Police Department and Fire Department personnel out of the pay hike because they are in line for other raises.
According to a motion adopted Thursday by the City Council that makes some adjustments to the new civil service rules, the merit increases will not apply to employees for whom “pay increases are addressed under other federal, state or local law.”
That means firefighters are out because, by state law, they receive a 2 percent “longevity raise” each year in their third through 23rd years of service with the department.
Police officers, meanwhile, are excluded in 2015 because they already are scheduled to receive a 5 percent raise starting Jan. 1, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said.
The police raise amounts to an average increase of $2,200 per officer, or $4.2 million total.
Kopplin said the city’s 2015 budget includes enough money for the 5 percent police raise and the 2 percent state-mandated but city-funded firefighter longevity raise but not enough to give them any further increases.
He said police would be eligible for the merit raises in 2016.
Under the new civil service rules, employees who receive a satisfactory report on their 2014 performance reviews will receive a 1.25 percent raise that should go into effect in April or May, after the March 1 deadline for submitting performance evaluations, Kopplin said.
Unions representing police and firefighters called on the city to find a way to fund merit increases for those groups as well.
The 5 percent pay raise for police, intended to help boost morale and stop attrition, is not large enough to keep officers on the job who already are considering leaving the force, Fraternal Order of Police attorney Claude Schlesinger said. The Police Department has lost about 119 officers so far this year, he said.
Officers, he said, feel undervalued because they are not included in the pool of city employees eligible for the merit pay increase.
“We’re telling police, the city administration is telling police, ‘You don’t deserve a merit pay raise,’ ” Schlesinger said. “I submit to the council that everything is feasible if it’s important enough, and it’s regrettable that the council doesn’t think it’s important enough yet to do something about it.”
Local firefighters union President Nick Felton said cutting firefighters from the group eligible for merit raises created an inequity in the civil service pay plan. He suggested that the exclusion of firefighters was a response to long-running litigation between the city and the firefighters over back pay and pension payments.
“It’s un-evenhanded. It’s retaliatory in nature,” Felton said. “It’s wrong. It’s unfair. It’s retaliatory.”
To bolster that claim, Felton pointed out that city civil service employees receiving longevity raises will not be barred from receiving the merit pay increases.
City workers get a 2.5 percent longevity raise at the end of their first, fifth, 10th and 15th years of employment, Kopplin said.
Most City Council members said they empathized with the complaints from both departments and recognized that the proposed raises are not enough but that their hands were tied.
Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, however, departed from that sentiment, saying she would be happy to support raises for the police as long as improvements are made. She then brought up a scathing report released last month by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux that focused on the work of five detectives in the NOPD’s Special Victims Section.
Cantrell said she supports the police, “but when babies who are infected are turned back to their parents … when women are told that when they know the man, it doesn’t count …”
The inspector general’s report said the five detectives failed to document any follow-up investigations in the majority of cases assigned to them for three years.
In one case, a 3-year-old child was sent home from the emergency room with a sexually transmitted disease after an alleged sexual assault, but an NOPD detective did not launch a criminal investigation. In another instance, a detective assigned 11 simple rape cases over a three-year period sent just one to the District Attorney’s Office — possibly because, as she told others, she didn’t think simple rape should be a crime.
Fraternal Order of Police member James Gallagher told Cantrell her comments “tarnished” more than 1,000 officers who had not been accused of wrongdoing.
“Shame on you,” he yelled before walking out of the council chamber.
“Shame on you,” Cantrell replied.