Firefighter, police unions challenge Kan. city on pay cuts

The city of Topeka announced 3% pay cuts for firefighters and police officers last week due to pandemic-related budget issues


India Yarborough
The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.

TOPEKA, Kan. — The unions representing Topeka's police officers and firefighters are at odds with the city over a 3% pay cut announced last week.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 and the International Association of Firefighters Local No. 83 sent letters on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, to city manager Brent Trout requesting additional information about the pay cuts and questioning how the city concluded that action was the most appropriate to address potential budget shortfalls stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Topeka's firefighter and police unions are challenging city leadership over a 3% pay cut announced last week in response to pandemic-related budget issues. (Photo/IAFF Local 83)
Topeka's firefighter and police unions are challenging city leadership over a 3% pay cut announced last week in response to pandemic-related budget issues. (Photo/IAFF Local 83)

The letters also inquired about whether the city had documentation to support its claims concerning specifics about the city's budget.

"The FOP cannot expect its members to make, or even consider, decisions affecting their families and livelihood without the City providing such basic information for review," said John Culver, president of the local police union. "FOP members continue to put themselves in harm's way each day to protect the citizens of Topeka, and many other first responders, medical providers and essential employees continue to do the same during this difficult time."

Both unions requested a written response from the city. The police union asked Trout to respond to its inquiries by 9 a.m. Friday, while the firefighters union requested a response by noon. Neither of the requests were fulfilled by those times, according to the unions.

The pay cut, announced by the city April 10, applies to all management and executive-level staff. At the time, the city asked the unions to advise their members to take the same 3% cut.

A news release last week from Molly Hadfield, the city's director of media relations, claimed the salary reductions were necessary because the city expects to see "significant revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19."

In their letters to Trout, the unions explained the city had organized a video call with their members at 3 p.m. April 10 — the same time the city announced the pay cuts via news release. During the 3 p.m. call, the unions claimed, city leaders demanded union members agree to the pay cut. The unions hadn't gotten word of salary reductions before that call, they said.

The city gave the unions until 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, to respond, and the unions say they intend to do so.

However, the unions said in their letters to Trout that because of the way the city presented its demand, the unions needed additional information.

"Your demand was given to the unions without warning or the opportunity to discuss the issue with city administration in advance," both union letters read.

A spokesman for the IAFF said the city finally responded with answers to its questions around 5 p.m. Friday, but the association is asking for further clarification.

"At this point, and until the City provides a complete response to the union's questions, we are unable to advise our members or make a decision," said Aaron Freeman, president of the local firefighters union.

The Topeka Capital-Journal didn't receive additional correspondence from the FOP about whether the city eventually offered a response to that union's inquiry.

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©2020 The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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