The compensation for Luzerne County’s unionized detectives has been described as excessive at county government meetings, and now it’s set to increase under a new binding arbitration award.
The nine detectives received 1 percent raises effective Nov. 3 — the date the award was issued — and another 1 percent increase for 2018, followed by 2 percent increases in both 2019 and 2020, according to county records.
With both 1 percent increases factored in, the base compensation for the nine detectives currently on staff would rise to these amounts in 2018, according to analysis of county payroll records: Chief Detective Michael J. Dessoye, $108,369; Daniel Yursha, $104,063; Richard G. Capitano, $102,277; Deborah Parker, $101,384; Christopher Lynch, $100,043; Larry Fabian, $98,257; Daniel Beky, $69,798; Charles Balough, $68,806; and James Noone, $68,144.
Binding arbitration is an option for unions that are unable to strike and reach an impasse in contract negotiations. The arbitration panel consists of a county and union representative and a neutral representative selected by those two.
Union representatives Yursha and Capitano could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday on the new contract.
The detective compensation came up most recently during 2018 county council budget discussions.
Councilman Eugene Kelleher said he understands why people would get upset with the detective pay. Councilman Robert Schnee asserted the compensation of some detectives is getting too close to the $124,858 county Manager C. David Pedri will receive in 2018 to oversee the entire county government.
Amid a Dec. 12 debate about county District Attorney’s Office funding, county Councilman Rick Williams said the detective salaries are a “bit of an embarrassment” when compared to the compensation for other hardworking staffers.
Williams suggested county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis consider laying off a detective if she needs to free up funds to cover other required services.
Salavantis has repeatedly said detectives are crucial in crime investigation, and she has stressed she has no authority over union contract negotiations or binding arbitration.
She did not commit to any layoffs but told council the new union contract contains incentives for detectives to retire, which could allow replacements to be hired at lower pay.
The new deal keeps two retirement incentives for detectives over age 55 — continued county health insurance coverage until Medicare kicks in and a more generous option to receive cash for unused sick days.
Under normal circumstances, detectives can cash in up to 60 unused sick days at $50 each when they retire.
The special incentive allows detectives to receive their current rate of pay for up to 120 unused sick days if they make an irrevocable decision by Aug. 31 to retire by the end of 2018. Those who decide to retire between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019, can be paid for up to 60 unused sick days at their current pay rate.
Detectives hired before Jan. 1, 2012 — which applies to all nine currently employed — receive 18 sick days annually. Those hired in the future would receive 10 days.
Newly hired detectives would receive the same starting salary set in the previous contract — $47,459. Instead of the raise provided to current employees, they would receive 4 percent “progression wage increases” — commonly known as step increases — annually for five years until they reach a base salary of $57,739.
Also retained in the new contract is a formula-based, length-of-service longevity bonus for current detectives, a 37.5-hour work week, a $1,050 annual clothing/equipment allowance and vacation leave ranging from 15 days for employees with five to 10 years of service to 30 days for workers with more than 20 years.
The county, meanwhile, won changes in health insurance contributions and management control.
Detectives hired before Jan. 1, 2012, previously paid $100 per month toward health insurance, regardless of the type of coverage. Starting Jan. 1, they must pay 10 percent of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, rate. Their contribution increases to 12 percent in 2019.
Depending on the type of plan selected, the 2018 monthly payments for employees at 10 percent will range from $60.32 to $186.98.
In addition, new language was added indicating no grievance arbitration award can infringe on the district attorney’s right to hire, fire, direct and supervise the workforce.
Seniority provisions were stripped from the new contract. The old contract required years of service to prevail in promotions and layoffs.
The administration has been pushing for such changes in contracts as they come up for renewal, arguing merit — not seniority — must be the basis of personnel decisions involving layoffs and promotions under the county’s home rule government that took effect in 2012.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.