The shooting of a Cape Coral policeman has made officers less willing to accept pay cuts.
That was the message delivered by police union president Kurt Grau on Wednesday during a heated bargaining session over police contracts.
“How can I go to the hospital right now and tell Officer (David) Wagoner to take a 6 percent pay cut?" Grau said afterward.
Wagoner continues to recuperate at Lee Memorial Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery after being shot three times at point-blank range, allegedly by Yousel Lopez Rivera, 20, during a traffic stop Saturday.
The city is asking for either the 6 percent pay cut or a 4 percent pay cut and an increase in pension contributions from 7 percent to 9 percent of salary.
Grau said the union isn't trying to use the shooting as leverage, but said the incident shines a spotlight on the nature of policing.
“This just kind of reinforces how dangerous our job is,” he said.
City labor attorney John Hament said the shooting was “terrible,” but economic conditions haven’t changed.
“Everyone knows the police are critical, vital and sacrifice their lives every minute,” he said. “It’s the economy, Kurt, that’s all it is.”
He said the city is looking at a budget shortfall of $8.3 million to $9.6 million.
The union has countered with a proposal that would cut pay by about 3 percent and add a 2 percent pension increase. It would soften the pay cut by increasing the pension payout by 1 percent.
The city has said its proposal would save an estimated $1 million a year. The union didn’t have a figure available Wednesday.
Grau also pointed to the city’s recent agreement with the four general employee unions to cut 3 percent of pay.
“For you to come here and say you want us to take a bigger pay cut than the general employees, to me, that’s an insult,” he said.
Police have gone without raises since 2008 and to ask for further cuts will threaten public safety, he said.
The average salary is $59,000. The department has about 240 officers.
Two officers left the department since the last bargaining session about a month ago, he said, and 13 more have sent applications to the Tampa Police Department, which is hiring dozens.
Potentially having to hire and train officers to replace them will be expensive, the union argued.
“How do we stop these guys from leaving?” Grau asked.
Hament said the same argument is made by unions everywhere.
“That’s a very common theme of the union,” he said. “To some degree there may be merit to that.”
Pat Zinke, a resident of Cape Coral, agreed. Zinke said everyone else is having to endure cuts and police shouldn’t be an exception.
“That’s life,” she said. “Life is hard.”
Rita Reau, who lives in Cape Coral part of the year, said the recent shooting shows the risks police take.
“They put their lives on the line every day,” Reau said. “I just seems like they could cut it from somewhere else in the budget.”