Arbitrator: Gary L. Axon
Arbitrator: Axon; Gary L.
Case #: 10183-I-92-00218
Date Issued: 11/06/1993
IN THE MATER OF )
INTEREST ARBITRATION ) PERC NO. 10183-1-92-218
BETWEEN ) NEUTRAL ARBITRATOR'S
SERVICES GUILD, ) AWARD
Guild, ) 1993 WAGE REOPENER
HEARING SITE: City Hall
HEARING DATES: July 8, 9, 12, 1993
POST-HEARING BRIEFS DUE: Postmarked
RECORD CLOSED ON RECEIPT OF BRIEFS:
REPRESENTING THE GUILD: James M. Cline
Hoag, Vick, Tarantino & Garrettson
REPRESENTING THE CITY: Bruce L. Schroeder
Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe
ARBITRATION PANEL: Mike Marker
Guild Appointed Member
City Appointed Member
Gary L. Axon
1465 Pinecrest Terrace
Table of Contents
I. Introduction 2
II. Background 7
III. Position of the Guild 9
IV. Position of the City 23
V. Discussion and Findings 41
A. Guild Proposal to Change the Wage Grid 44
B. Wages 46
Constitutional and Statutory Authority
of the Employer 49
Stipulations of the Parties 49
Cost of Living 57
Other Factors 59
This case is an interest arbitration conducted pursuant
to Chapter 41.56 RCW. The parties to this dispute are the City of
("Guild"). In 1990 the parties negotiated their first Collective
Bargaining Agreement under
the three-year period from
called for a salary reopener for the third year of the contract.
The parties were unable to resolve the sole issue of the
appropriate wage rate for 1993 through negotiation and mediation.
The matter was certified for interest arbitration pursuant td RCW
41.56.450, et seq.
and timber economy.
corridor. The 1993 population of the City is approximately 20,450.
The City actively promotes a rural and small-town atmosphere as
part of its mission statement. City Ex. 65.
66,100 in 1983 to 88,500 in 1993. The City of
also grown from a population of 17,647 in 1990 to 20,450 in 1993.
City Ex. 19. The largest employers within the City limits are the
various public agencies, including
and a public hospital. There are no major industrial or
manufacturing employers located in
opened in the neighboring city to the north,
retail businesses relocated out of
approved several new residential subdivisions to accommodate the
increasing population of
since the mid-1980s.
The Mount Vernon Police Department is comprised of
approximately 36 full-time positions including a Chief, Assistant
Chief, a Captain and a Records Manager who are in non-represented
management positions. The bargaining unit is composed of 27
officers. Twenty-one are patrol officers and 6 are sergeants. The
average length of service in the bargaining unit is almost 10
years. The Mount Vernon Police Department provides a full range of
law enforcement services for the citizens of the City. The bulk of
the Police Department is funded by the City's general fund.
The hearing in this case took three days for the parties
to present their evidence and testimony. The majority of the
hearing time was consumed on the issue of the appropriate
jurisdictions with which to compare
establishing the 1993 wage schedule. The hearing was recorded by
a court reporter and a transcript consisting of 689 pages was made
available to the parties and the arbitration panel for the purpose
of preparing the post-hearing briefs and award. Testimony of the
witnesses was taken under oath. At the hearing the parties were
given the full opportunity to present written evidence, oral
testimony and argument. The parties provided the Arbitrator with
substantial written documentation in support of their respective
positions. Comprehensive and lengthy post-hearing briefs were
submitted to the Arbitrator with accompanying interest arbitration
awards issued in the state of
The approach of this Arbitrator in writing the award will
be to summarize the major and most persuasive evidence and argument
presented by the parties. After the introduction of the issue and
positions of the parties, I will state the principal findings and
rationale which caused the Arbitrator to make the award on the wage
The parties filed their post-hearing written briefs in a
timely manner and the record was closed as
for the purpose of the admission of the
Police Department agreement. On
brief in opposition to the
After evaluating the arguments submitted by counsel regarding the
Motion to Reopen the Record, the Arbitrator denied the Motion to
Reopen in an order dated
Because of the extensive record made in this case the
parties agreed to an extension of the statutory requirement that a
decision be issued within thirty days of the close of the record.
with the party appointed members of the arbitration panel to
discuss the evidence and argument contained in the record of this
case. The comments and observations of the party appointed panel
members were of great assistant to the neutral Arbitrator in making
his findings of fact and award on the issue presented for
arbitration. The written decision is solely the work of the
This Arbitrator carefully reviewed and evaluated all of
the evidence and argument submitted pursuant to the criteria
established by RCW 41.56.460. Since the record in this case is so
comprehensive it would be impractical for the Arbitrator in this
discussion and award to restate and refer to each and every piece
of evidence or testimony presented. However, when formulating the
1993 wage award the Arbitrator did give careful consideration to
all of the evidence and argument submitted.
The single issue submitted to interest arbitration in
this case is the 1993 wage issue under the reopener provision of
the 1991-93 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The statutory factors to be considered by the Arbitrator
may be summarized as follows:
(a) The constitutional and statutory
authority of the employer;
(b) Stipulations of the parties;
(c) (i) For employees listed in RCW
41.56.030(7)(a) and 41.56.495, comparison of
the wages, hours, and conditions of employment
of personnel involved in the proceedings with
the wages, hours, and conditions of employment
of like personnel of like employers of similar
size on the West Coast of the United States
* * *
(d) The average consumer prices for goods and
services, commonly known as the cost of
(e) Changes in any of the foregoing of
circumstances during the pendency of the
(f) Such other factors, not confined to the
foregoing, which are normally or traditionally
taken into consideration in the determination
of wages, hours, and conditions of employment.
This case comes to arbitration pursuant to a reopener
clause in the 1991-93 Collective Bargaining Agreement. The single
issue subject to the reopener involves the wage level for 1993.
The present salary schedule is structured on an eight step system.
It takes nine years to reach the top step of the current salary
schedule. The nine year salary grid has been in place for several
years. Pursuant to the 1992 contract, a beginning patrolman starts
at $2,278 per month and rises to a top step after nine years of
$2,838 per month. A Mount Vernon police officer's wage is $2,742
after five years with the Police Department.
The sergeants are also included in this bargaining unit.
A sergeant with zero to two years experience earns $2,949 per month
which increases to $3,049 per month after two years. The sergeant
reaches the top step of the salary scale after four years. The top
step pay for a sergeant is $3,149 per month.
The City pays the entire premium for medical care for
bargaining unit members and their dependents pursuant to the terms
of the contract. The members of this bargaining unit work a
substantial amount of overtime. In addition, shift differential is
paid for work between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. Premium pay is also
provided for special assignments made to the members of this
The 1991 Agreement yielded a 7% increase. The second
year of the contract generated a 3% increase under a CPI formula
based on 100% of the all-cities CPI-U index, with a minimum of 3%
and a maximum of 7% computed on a reading of the November 1990 to
November 1991 index.
The Union proposed for 1993 to alter the wage grid by
reducing the time it takes to reach the top step from nine years to
five years. The Union has proposed a wage increase that would
average 17%. The City proposed to retain the existing salary grid
with a 3% across the board increase.
The driving force behind the positions of the parties on
the wage issue was comparability. Each party submitted substantial
evidence and argument to support its position on the appropriate
comparators for the purpose of establishing wages for Mount Vernon
police officers. The Arbitrator was also supplied with several
interest arbitration decisions involving other Washington cities.
The arbitration of this case was conducted approximately six and
one-half months into the 1993 contract year. By the time this
award is issued, approximately two months will remain on the 1993
contract. The Arbitrator has evaluated this case in the context of
a third year reopener and the implications of this award for future
negotiations between the parties.
III. POSITION OF THE GUILD
The Union proposed a salary schedule for 1993 wages as
PATROL PAY STEP MONTHLY WAGE
0-1 years $2606
1-2 years $2737
2-3 years $2867
3-4 years $2997
4-5 years $3128
5+ years $3258
SERGEANTS' PAY STEP
0-2 years $3449.89
2-4 years $3567.31
4+ years $3684.69
The Guild's position on 1993 wages was based almost
exclusively on its list of comparators. According to the Guild,
its proposed list is more consistent with both statutory and other
traditional factors relied upon in the selection of comparator
jurisdictions in interest arbitrations than the list offered by the
City. The Guild's "Weighted Multi-Factor Approach" resulted in a
list of eight Washington jurisdictions which the Union believed
represented a fair and equitable basis on which to establish Mount
Vernon police wages. The Guild proposed eight Washington
jurisdictions as its list of comparables. They are as follows:
CITY POPULATION NUMBER OF OFFICERS
Bremerton 36,380 56
Longview 32,650 46
Puyallup 26,140 43
Lacey 22,660 31
Mount Vernon 20,450 29
Mountlake Terrace 19,880 29
Des Moines 19,460 27
Port Angeles 18,270 27
Aberdeen 16,665 36
Mount Vernon 24,013 35
The Union submits the factors which relate to size, function,
wealth and location of the comparator jurisdictions are most likely
to be understood by the parties to produce a list of "like"
The Guild avers that its method of analysis produced a
balanced and reasonable set of comparators. The Union's list was
composed of cities located in western Washington and excluded
cities without "uniform personnel" or those with less that 15,000
population. The variance range was established to multiply or
divide by a factor of 2. The Guild's demographic factors used as
a basis for selecting comparables were as follows:
2) Assessed Valuation
3) Assessed Valuation per capita
4) Retail Sales
5) Retail Sales per capita
6) Number of Officers
7) Number of Crimes
The factors given the most weight in the analysis were population
and assessed valuation.
The Guild claimed that the factors it relied on for
selecting comparators offer the best approach to determine "like
employers of similar size." The argument of the Guild is
summarized in the sections which follow.
1. Population. Population is the best
measure of "similar size." Further, increases
in population often increase the complexity
and workload of the law enforcement officers'
job. Population must be viewed in tandem with
several other factors. Cities in the Guild's
list of comparables range from 16,665 persons
in Aberdeen to 36,380 persons in Bremerton.
The average population of the eight cities
without Mount Vernon is 24,013. The Guild's
comparators are justified based upon the
population range of the jurisdictions
resulting from the Guild's study.
2. Assessed Valuation. Assessed valuation is
a traditional factor utilized by arbitrators
in the process of selecting comparators. The
reasoning for using assessed valuation is that
police officers not only protect people, they
also protect property. Assessed valuation
when viewed in conjunction with retail sales
is probably far and away the best measure of
the City's tax base and its ability to pay.
An equitable wage award will take into account
the similarity of Mount Vernon to cities of
similar ability to pay. Assessed valuation
serves as a rough measure of the wealth of a
3. Assessed Valuation Per Capita. Assessed
valuation per capita is simply a more fine-
tuned method of selecting comparators. The
logic of utilizing assessed valuation per
capita is that one gets a better measure of a
city's ability to pay than by looking at
assessed valuation alone. Assessed valuation
per capita also provides a better snapshot of
the local effort than does assessed valuation
standing by itself.
4. Retail Sales. In Washington, a
significant share of local income to cities is
generated by the retail sales tax. The volume
of retail trade should also be viewed as a
generator of police work as increases in
commercial centers will likely result in
rising crime related to such centers.
Bargaining history supports the use of retail
sales as an element for determining
comparability. In 1991 the City relied
extensively on purported diminished retail
trade to justify a diminished wage settlement.
An evaluation of comparable retail sales
indicates that Mount Vernon is hardly sales
tax poor. While neighboring Burlington's
growth as a commercial center may have caused
a temporary interruption in Mount Vernon sales
tax growth, the evidence reflects that Mount
Vernon appears to have a healthy sales tax
5. Retail Sales Per Capita. Retail sales per
capita also provides a means of controlling
for size and more carefully assessing the
local effort of a jurisdiction towards support
for its police department.
6. Number of Officers. The number of
officers is a method of determining whether
employers are like employers. As departments
grow in size, they generally grow in
sophistication and specialization. Increasing
specialization usually leads to greater
economic rewards for those participating in
the more specialized police department. The
increase in police wages under such
circumstances is a reflection of the greater
demands made upon the enterprise and the
officers who serve the City.
7. Number of Crimes. Number of crimes has
sometimes been relied upon by arbitrators to
select comparators. Crime data is seen as a
measure of workload and output of employees.
While crime reporting methods may vary from
jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the number of
crimes is a factor worth giving some weight t6
in the selection of comparators.
In sum, the Guild submitted that its weighted multi-
factor approach is an honest and rational method for selecting
comparators. The Guild does not insist that this is the only way
to select comparators, but that it is a fair way on which to base
Mount Vernon police wages.
Regarding the City's method of utilizing population alone
as the basis for determining comparators, the Union submits such an
ad hoc approach by using population only as a first cut and then
excluding a significant number of Puget Sound jurisdictions ignores
the impact of nearby large metropolitan areas. Mount Vernon is
strategically placed along Interstate 5 mid-way between Seattle and
Vancouver, B.C. Such an ad hoc method of selecting comparators is
not rational or fair because the economic influence generated by
the metropolitan area goes unrecognized.
The Guild next argues that Mount Vernon comparators
should be selected out of the western Washington labor market.
Presence in a common labor market is certainly one measure for
determining whether employers are like each other. Arbitral
authority teaches that selecting comparators based on a common
labor market or geographic proximity is preferred. When there are
a sufficient number of jurisdictions within the local market pool,
arbitrators adopt jurisdictions that are geographically close to
the target jurisdiction. The reason for looking at the local labor
market is based on two primary factors. First, it is the market in
which the employer competes for the purchase of labor. Second,
human nature is such that it is expected that employees are more
likely to look at jurisdictions geographically proximate, than
those that are geographically distant to determine whether their
wages are fair and equitable. Wages based on parity with Walla
Walla and Pullman, located in the far eastern part of the state of
Washington, will not be perceived as fair and just.
The Guild contends there are a sufficient number of
proper and fair comparators that can be drawn from within a labor
market west of the Cascades. The population and number of police
departments in the Puget Sound area are so significant that it is
bound to have an impact on any jurisdiction adjacent to this area.
There is no need to go east of the Cascades to find appropriate
Turning to the testimony of the City's expert witness,
economist David Knowles, the Guild submits his testimony was
"incomprehensible, contradictory, unscholarly and nonsensical."
Knowles never offered a coherent or logical definition of what
constituted a labor market. Nor had he actually studied the labor
market for police officers. Whatever Knowles meant by a labor
market, it appears his testimony had little or no resemblance to
anything which has ever been utilized in defining a labor market in
prior interest arbitrations. The Guild vigorously argues that
Mount Vernon's proximity to Seattle has a strong influence on the
Mount Vernon economy that cannot be ignored in selecting
comparators. Mount Vernon is located sixty miles from the center
of Seattle. The evidence offered by the Guild regarding Seattle's
influence on Mount Vernon was not successfully rebutted by the
City. The daily migration of thousands of persons along the
Interstate 5 corridor set western Washington jurisdictions apart
from eastern Washington cities.
Economic evaluations of Mount Vernon by neutral parties
reveal this City is significantly impacted by its close proximity
to Seattle. Mount Vernon is strategically located mid-way between
Seattle and Bellingham. A profile of Skagit County noted that
Mount Vernon "was ideally situated to be both a supplier of goods
to those markets and a conduit for trade between the two." There
is a significant "spillover from Puget Sound with many residents
commuting to jobs in Snohomish and King counties and bringing their
paychecks home to Mount Vernon. Another report by the Employment
Security Department predicted that Skagit County would be under
tremendous pressure "to accommodate population and economic growth"
largely because of their proximity to nearby Everett and Seattle.
Real estate expert Tom Kelly testified as to the effect
of Mount Vernon's proximity to the Seattle area on its housing
market. Kelly cited a marked increase in commuting since 1990.
Kelly concluded that this City is linked now more than ever to the
tn-county economic base of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
The City's own finance director was quoted as characterizing Mount
Vernon as a commuter's paradise." The changes in the Mount Vernon
housing market are direct evidence of this City's economic
integration with the Seattle area.
It is also the position of the Guild that this City
should not be viewed as a "stand-alone" jurisdiction. Because
Mount Vernon sets on the edge of a larger metropolitan area, a very
strong relationship exists between the jurisdiction's proximity to
Seattle and wages. Therefore, the Guild submits that it is
appropriate to select a group of comparators that on the whole
share Mount Vernon's characteristics in terms of proximity to
larger metropolitan areas.
RCW 41.56.460(c)(i) requires comparisons made between
jurisdictions of "like personnel of like employers of similar
size." The statute mandates that only cities above 15,000 may be
considered as comparators to the City of Mount Vernon. According
to the Guild, cities with a population below 15,000 do not employ
police officers as "uniform personnel" under the act. By using
cities with a population below 15,000 the Arbitrator would
incorrectly use jurisdictions that do not have "like personal of
like employers." Wages for those police contracts in cities above
15,000 are much more likely to be set as a reference to the
specific statutory criteria controlling in this interest
arbitration. Jurisdictions under 15,000 do not have the benefit of
Regarding the factor of cost of living, the Guild offered
specific empirical data regarding two of the better measures of
cost of living--housing costs and income. On the other hand, the
City offered only "theories" about what the cost of living in Mount
Vernon might be as compared to the other Washington jurisdictions.
The City offered a theory to measure the differences in the cost of
living between the jurisdictions through the testimony of
transportation planner Brent Baker. The Guild argued Baker's
theories do not actually measure the cost of living between cities.
Rather he propounds a theory about what the differences in cost of
living might be among the various comparator jurisdictions. His
theory was totally untested. On cross-examination, several
aberrations in Baker's model were identified which undercut its
validity. Baker was unable to explain why there was a 22%
difference between the cost of living in Pasco and the cost of
living across the river in Richland and Kennewick. Nor was Baker
able to explain why San Juan County's cost of living was lower than
the cost of living in the remote northeast Washington counties of
Pend Oreille and Ferry.
Both parties recognize that there is no index which
measures the relative differences in the cost of living in Mount
Vernon with the other comparator jurisdictions. According to the
Guild, the only accurate way to measure the cost of living is to
actually measure the price of goods being bought, and no one has
done that for Mount Vernon. The best available data presented at
this hearing to measure Mount Vernon's cost of living was the house
pricing data presented by the Guild.
Median family income is also a measure of comparability
because it allows inferences about local effort to be drawn from
the reports. In addition, the ratio of police officer salaries to
median family income is a test of equity. Even the City's own
economist testified that income measures of per capita and median
family income were good indicators of local wealth and local cost
The Guild takes the position that abundant evidence
exists the local economy is prosperous. The City mistakenly uses
unemployment data for the entire County and offered no data on the
actual employment rate in Mount Vernon for support of its position
that high unemployment justifies a low wage settlement. While
recognizing that Skagit County has a strong agricultural base, the
economy is diversifying beyond agricultural based industries. It
is reasonable to assume that the people moving to Mount Vernon are
not doing so to work in the agricultural industry. Nor should the
lack of "smokestack industry" be viewed as a negative in discussion
of the Mount Vernon economy. If Mount Vernon's long-term plan is
to be a bedroom community, maintaining a relatively pristine
environment with light industry and service jobs is a rational
approach to growth management in the City.
The Guild prepared sixteen tables which summarized the
chief points of comparison on the relevant demographic factors
between the eight jurisdictions it proposed and those proposed by
the City. Guild Post-Hearing Brief, pp. 39-61. The Arbitrator
will not repeat the findings displayed on the sixteen tables. The
Guild submits its list of comparators is based on coherent,
understandable principles which are well-grounded in statue and
arbiter precedent. A review of the City's list of comparables
reveals that it has been shifting over the term of the contract and
has been result oriented. The evolving set proposed by the City
over time is undoubtedly a reflection of the City proposing a list
of jurisdictions with the lowest possible wages, and searching for
a theory to support its comparator jurisdictions. In the 1990
negotiations the City proposed a list based on a population plus or
minus 50%. At that time the City did not attempt to exclude the
counties immediately to the south of Mount Vernon. The Guild went
with a western Washington list thinking it would promote a
settlement of this contract. Across the range of the relevant
demographic factors, Mount Vernon is generally near the median of
the Guild's list of comparators, while it is generally near the top
of the list proposed by the City. By using population as the only
demographic variable by which to select comparables and then
excluding the four counties to the south of Mount Vernon, the City
has put together a distorted list. The Arbitrator should adopt the
Guild's list of comparators and reject the list offered by the
Regarding the City's proposed "local labor market"
consisting of the jurisdictions of Burlington, Sedro Woolley, Oak
Harbor, Anacortes and the Skagit County Sheriff's Office, the Guild
submits the model adopted by the City is flawed and should not be
relied upon by the Arbitrator to establish a wage award. The City
offered little empirical evidence to support its claim that this
would be the appropriate group of comparator jurisdictions.
Further, the City never defined what it meant by a local labor
market. The City also proposed Oak Harbor as part of the local
labor market jurisdictions, but rejected Bellingham and Everett
which in terms of travel time are closer to Mount Vernon than is
Oak Harbor. Mount Vernon is by far the largest City in the local
labor market group. By equities, Mount Vernon should be the wage
leader of this group. The Skagit County Sheriff's Department pays
far in excess of Mount Vernon which reverses a normal industry
standard in which cities normally pay law enforcement officers more
than counties in the same locale. The wide range in the ratios of
population and assessed valuation reveals the difficulty in using
dissimilar jurisdictions in the same labor market for making
comparisons. Guild post-Hearing Brief, p. 67, Table 18.
The wage offer proposed by the Guild is supported by
relevant factors traditionally used to determine wage awards in
interest arbitration proceedings. The Guild has taken a position
that comparators should be compared on the basis of their five-year
wage. There is a recognized tradition in interest arbitrations to
make wage comparisons based on a benchmark. The Guild approach has
been to use a format of comparing top-step wage on a five-year
basis and treating any wages added after the five-year mark as a
longevity premium. By using the fifth year of service as the
benchmark for comparison, it is possible to make calculations and
comparisons on an "apples to apples" basis for similarly situated
In the 1991 negotiations, the City claimed it was unable
to meet the Guild's wage demands because loss of retail business
had caused a decline in tax revenues. The Guild agreed to a wage
reopener with the promise that if revenues were improved at that
time the employees would receive a catch-up increase. The revenues
have improved and it is now time for an award which would bring the
wages of this bargaining unit up to parity with the other
comparable jurisdictions. The offer of the size proposed by the
Guild should be viewed in the context of the entire three-year
package. The City bought itself more time by making promises to
catch-up the wages for the officers in the third year. What the
Guild is proposing by its substantial wage increase is simply a
backloading into the third year of what should have been
distributed over the full three years of the contract. The time is
now to award the substantial increase in wages proposed by the
Guild in order to establish parity with the other comparable
If the Arbitrator determines to use a cost of living
index as a part of setting a wage award, the Arbitrator should
utilize the Seattle index which is commonly used to measure the
appropriate wage level for Washington public agencies. In 1992 the
Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulated the use of the All-
Cities index rather than the Seattle index. There was a 3.7%
difference in the two indices which caused Mount Vernon wages to
fall further behind the comparators. Real wages over time have
been declining for the members of this bargaining unit. Adoption
of the City's proposed 3% award for 1993 would be lower than real
wages in 1989 and near the 1987 wage level.
To the extent internal parity is relevant, the Arbitrator
should note that the City has provided firefighter wage increases
in excess of other employees also subject to interest arbitration.
The increase agreed to for firefighters for 1993 was 4.5%. The
Guild believes that internal parity is of little usefulness and may
well violate the statutory requirement that wages be determined in
reference to comparable employers. While the internal parity
factor might be relevant where there is an ability to pay argument,
this is not an issue in the instant case. City has the fiscal
resources necessary to pay the wages proposed by the Guild.
In sum, as this City has grown the demands on its police
officers have increased. The City has become more prosperous as
its tax base has shown significant improvement in recent years.
The Guild asks the Arbitrator to make an award that is fair and
equitable and will give the parties some stability in future
IV. POSITION OF THE CITY
The City proposed a 3%, across the board adjustment to
the current salary grid for patrol officers and sergeants,
retroactive to January 1, 1993. The City's proposal would leave
the current nine year, eight step salary grid in place through the
remainder of this contract. The 1993 salary schedule proposed by
the City would provide as follows:
Patrolmen 1993 (3%)
0-6 month 2347.08
6 mo-1 year 2401.83
Over 1-2 years 2470.83
Over 2-3 years 2525.67
Over 3-5 years 2774.42
Over 5-7 years 2824.08
Over 7-9 years 2873.83
Over 9 years 2923.67
0-2 years 3037.17
over 2-4 years 3140.42
over 4 years 3243.83
City Ex. 72.
The City believes its proposal is fashioned in light of all the
factors mandated by Washington law.
City believes its proposal is fair for seven basic
reasons. First, the City is already paying consistent with the
average of the jurisdictions in its local labor market. Second,
officers are also paid in relation to its "true" comparable
employers. Third, the cost of living factor also supports the
Fourth, the City's proposal is justified by consideration
of the relative cost of living differences between jurisdictions.
The undisputed facts demonstrate that it is significantly less
expensive to live in Mount Vernon than it is in the central Puget
Sound area. Fifth, the turnover rate in this Department reveals
that only three officers have left over a ten-year period, all for
reasons unassociated with salary. Sixth, the City's proposal is
consistent with the increases given other City workers. Seventh,
the economic conditions in Skagit County and the City's finances
argue in favor of the City's 3% offer.
The City's concern is that adoption of the Guild's
exorbitant proposal would run counter to the principles of
Washington law. According to the City, the Arbitrator's task is to
fashion an award which constitutes an extension of the bargaining
process. The Arbitrator's role in this case is not to upset the
City's traditional position in relation to its comparables. The
City hopes that the result of this arbitration will be that future
negotiations will be approached by both parties with intent to
resolve their differences at the bargaining table rather than in an
adversarial interest arbitration hearing. Like the Guild, the City
relied primarily on the comparables as the basis for its 3% of fer.
The City generated a list of cities with a population
plus or minus 50% of Mount Vernon. In order to reflect the rural,
agricultural nature of Mount Vernon and its environs, the City
excluded all cities in this population band which were located in
the central Puget Sound region. The Puget Sound region was defined
by the City as jurisdictions in Snohomish, King, Pierce, Thurston
and Kitsap counties. This approach reduced the list to twelve
Washington jurisdictions, six of which were west of the Cascades
and six of which were east of the Cascades. The City then reviewed
its list and eliminated the two smallest eastern Washington
The ten jurisdictions which the City maintains are "like
employers" are as follows:
Kelso 11,837 11,850
Anacortes 12,110 12,260
Pullman 23,190 23,480
AVERAGE 18,415 18,703
The City urges the Arbitrator to adopt the recognized
plus or minus 50% measure for selecting a similarly sized
jurisdiction. The Guild advocates a skewed population ban which
would include cities twice the size of Mount Vernon. The adoption
of an approach which would yield a population ban of 50% down and
100% up should not be recognized as an appropriate means to compute
a fair combination of comparable employers.
Regarding the Guild's claim that it is inappropriate to
utilize cities smaller than 15,000 in population, the City submits
the Guild's approach should be rejected. The definition relied on
by the Guild has been amended by the Washington State legislature.
The new law signed by the governor on May 15, 1993, reduced the
population threshold to 7,500 for law enforcement personnel subject
to interest arbitration. Even though the amendment is not
effective until July 1, 1995, the statute reflects the legislative
intent to broaden the reach of interest arbitration for police
officers. Even if the amendment is not given full effect by the
Arbitrator, the City claims that the Guild's argument is not
supported by the statutes. Under the Guild's argument, all
jurisdictions located in Oregon and California would be
automatically excluded from the definition of "uniform personnel"
regardless of size. RCW 41.26.030 requires parties to consider
comparable employers from Oregon, California and Washington.
Police in those states have their own enabling laws which are not
controlled by Washington's statute. The Arbitrator should conclude
that the legislature did not intend to constrain interest
arbitrators to population bans contained in the definition of
"uniform personnel'' when deciding on similarly sized jurisdictions.
The cumulative effect of the Guild's limit on the lower
end of the population and the broadening of the upper end is a list
of comparables which is substantially larger than Mount Vernon.
The City's proposed comparators has a population range of 11,852 to
28,802. This represents a range of 41% larger than Mount Vernon to
42% smaller than Mount Vernon. On the other hand, the Guild's
comparables range from 16,665 to 36,385, a percentage range of 19%
smaller than Mount Vernon to 78% larger than Mount Vernon. The
average population on the City's list was 18,415 which is similar
to Mount Vernon's current population.
The City next asserts the Arbitrator should exclude
cities located in the central Puget Sound urban area. The statute
requires the comparable to be "like employers." The methodology
adopted by the City in developing its comparables excluded
jurisdictions located in the heart of the central Puget Sound urban
core. Arbitrators have recognized that jurisdictions located
within the central Puget Sound area are different because of the
substantial influence of Seattle. The evidence offered at the
hearing supports the position that Mount Vernon is not like
jurisdictions located in the Seattle metropolitan core. The
population density figures demonstrated that Skagit County has only
45.8 people per square mile compared with Snohomish County directly
to the south with over 222.8 people per square mile. The remaining
counties in the urban cluster range from a low of 221.8 people per
square mile to King County with 709 people per square mile.
Skagit County is a rural county with 7.3% of the
employment in agricultural related industries. This is in contrast
to Seattle/Snohomish County where less than 4 tenths of the
employees are employed in agricultural related work. The bulk of
the jurisdictions on the City's list of comparables were similarly
situated in terms of the agricultural percentage in the work force.
Skagit County had an unemployment rate of 10.7% which is
substantially higher than the unemployment rate in the urban
The testimony of Dr. David Knowles revealed that Skagit
County is a rural area that is not densely populated. It does not
have the economic influence placed on it because of its proximity
to Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. In the judgment of Dr.
Knowles, the central Puget Sound cluster ends north of Everett
before reaching the agricultural base of the Skagit County Valley.
Moreover, the statistics do not back-up the Guild's claim
that Mount Vernon has become a "bedroom community" for the urban
areas. Rather, the data showed that 85.4% of Skagit County workers
live in Skagit County. Only 2.4% of Skagit County residents travel
to King County to work. City Ex. 9. While it may be true the
number of commuters has increased over the last decade, Mount
Vernon is a long way from becoming a bedroom community similar to
those counties located immediately to the north and south of King
The City claims its comparables are "like" Mount Vernon.
Anacortes and Oak Harbor are located in the same local labor market
and are geographically the closest to Mount Vernon. Anacortes is
also very close to Mount Vernon's assessed evaluation, even though
its population is less. The cities of Centralia, Kelso, Port
Angeles and Aberdeen are all cities located in western Washington.
They are also a small-town hub of an otherwise rural area.
Centralia and Kelso have the additional similarity of being along
the Interstate 5 corridor. These ten cities are located in
counties where the density is significantly less than the Seattle
metropolitan area. The bulk of these areas also have higher
proportions of agricultural employment in their work forces. They
also share the "unfortunate trait of having unemployment rates
which are significantly greater than those counties in the Seattle
metropolitan core." In sum, the jurisdictions chosen by the City
satisfy the statutory requirement of being "similarly sized" and
being "like employers."
Turning to the Guild's set of comparator jurisdictions,
the City submits the Arbitrator should reject the Guild's results
oriented list of dissimilar sized cities which are unlike Mount
Vernon. The Guild's multi-factor regression analysis is not
statistically supported. According to the City, the Guild's list
is a results orientated compilation of jurisdictions which are
unlike Mount Vernon. The Guild offered no expert testimony
supporting the statistical underpinnings for the regression
Moreover, Dr. David Knowles and Brent Baker, the City's
experts, testified about the significant risk in utilizing
regression analysis as used by the Guild to establish its
comparators. Both Dr. Knowles and Baker testified there were
significant pitfalls in using the statistical analysis by the Guild
to come up with its list of comparators. Baker testified that the
regression model does not prove a cause and effect relationship.
The Guild offered no evidence to counter the expert testimony of
Dr. Knowles and Baker. The framework for the Guild's analysis was
unsupported and therefore should be rejected by the Arbitrator.
Even if the Guild's model is statistically accurate, the
methodology behind the model is statistically flawed. While
assessed valuation may have some support in arbitrable decisions
involving firefighters who protect property, the primary
responsibility of the police is to protect people. Assessed
valuation does not measure the value of a life. If assessed
valuation is being used as a measure of a jurisdiction's wealth, it
ignores other major components of a city's revenue sources such as
sales tax and utility taxes. The absence of a strong sales tax
revenue counters any strength in property tax. A true measure of
the City's revenues for paying a wage increase is total revenues.
The City submits that this figure does not appear anywhere in the
Guild's analysis because other revenue sources for Mount Vernon
have been stagnant even in light of population growth.
The Guild further compounded its errors by automatically
excluding all eastern Washington jurisdictions from its list of
comparators. Dr. Knowles testified that the difference between
eastern and western Washington is not really between east and west,
but rather between rural and urban. There are pockets of rural
communities in western Washington, north of Everett and south of
Olympia. Skagit County is a rural area comparable to jurisdictions
located in eastern Washington. The Guild's analysis neglects to
take into consideration the fact that Skagit County is a rural
county which possesses many of the similarities in terms of its
population density to cities located in eastern Washington.
The Guild's results orientated method of selecting
comparables is also illustrated by the fact that Bambridge Island,
Bothell and the city of SeaTac do not appear on the source material
for testing under the Guild's computer analysis. According to the
City, the real explanation for this omission is that they are
trying to eliminate jurisdictions with lower pay. Further, the
Guild also eliminated Oak Harbor for some unexplained reason. On
the other end of the scale, the Guild included the city of Aberdeen
which has an assessed evaluation which is less than half of Mount
Vernon which should call for automatic exclusion under the Guild's
methodology. Aberdeen is a high paying jurisdiction which explains
why it was not excluded from the Guild's list of comparators even
though its own model would call for its deletion from the list.
The City cited other examples of where it alleged the
Guild had failed to follow its own methodology. A close
examination of the Guild's exhibit demonstrates they have
gerrymandered a list of alleged comparables that are not even
supported by their own methodology," even if that methodology were
The Guild has shifted from their former comparables
utilized in the 1990 negotiations without explanation. Present on
the 1991 list of comparables were eleven jurisdictions drawn from
eastern and western Washington, Oregon and California. The only
holdover on the current Guild list of comparables is Lacy,
Washington. The Guild's unexplained abandonment of its 1991
comparables is yet one more piece of evidence of the Guild's
The City next argues that Mount Vernon police officers
are paid fairly in relation to its comparables. The Arbitrator
should focus on the top step officer wages for similar periods.
The Guild's attempt to utilize step five of the current salary
proposal for purposes of comparison should be rejected by the
Arbitrator. The monthly salary for top step police officers has
been consistently utilized by interest arbitrators as the benchmark
for comparison for police wages.
Moreover, it is important to know the City pays a
significant amount of money to the members of this bargaining unit
by way of premium pay and overtime. Fifty-nine percent of the
patrol officers receive premium pay. The impact of the patrol
premium results in an additional $41.22 per month if prorated over
the entire group of officers. The City did not include this
additional salary expense when considering the appropriate third
year salary adjustment.
City Exhibit 28 compared Mount Vernon with its
comparables using all 1992 rates. The average pay of the City's
ten comparables in 1992 was $2,857. Mount Vernon is within $19 per
month of that average at $2,838 per month. When Mount Vernon's
wages are placed side by side with the two cities closest to it,
Anacortes and Oak Harbor, the wage looks even fairer. Anacortes
top step police officers receive $2,859, while Oak Harbor officers
receive $2,412. The bottom line is the 1992 position of Mount
Vernon in relation to its comparables is not out of line with its
traditional position with those same comparables. The 3% offer of
the City will maintain Mount Vernon's wages in a like position for
The City next contends that police officers are paid
fairly when adjusted for the relative cost of living differences
between metropolitan jurisdictions and Mount Vernon. The City
offered proof of differences in relative cost of living between
these jurisdictions through the expert testimony of Brent Baker.
Baker's testimony supports a conclusion that the cost of living
remains significantly less in Mount Vernon than it does in the
urban areas to the south.
Regarding the Guild's housing cost analysis, the City
contends it does not reflect the true cost of living differences
between Mount Vernon and the central Puget Sound area. The
testimony of the Guild real estate expert Tom Kelly was flawed
because there was no consistency in the source of information used
in his report. Nor was there any attempt to define a prototype
home for comparison in all of the jurisdictions that were studied
by Kelly. In addition, Kelly did not measure sales prices for
identical periods of time. This is not a scientific analysis of
housing prices. The City does not dispute that the cost of housing
in Mount Vernon has increased and that assessed evaluations have
also increased. However, the Arbitrator should reject Kelly's
analysis as sufficient to prove that the cost of housing in Mount
Vernon is on par with that of the central Puget Sound area.
Turning to the Guild's proposal to reduce the salary
schedule from nine to five years, the City maintains this proposal
should not be adopted. In the view of the City, the shortening of
the time to reach the top step is a significant alteration in the
wage grid which should not be accomplished in an arbitration
confined to a third year wage reopener. The total cost for
implementing the proposal is 15.59%. The Arbitrator should
conclude the Guild has failed to demonstrate a compelling need to
change the wage grid with its accompanying significant cost to the
With respect to the cost of living factor, the City
asserts its wage proposal is fair in light of recent changes in the
CPI. Since September 1991 the CPI-U for all U.S. Cities has been
no greater than 3.4%. The CPI-W is not significantly different.
Numbers for the same period of time range from a high of 3.2% to a
low of 2.4%. City Ex. 31.
It is also the position of the City that members of this
bargaining unit have been sheltered from significant increases in
cost for medical care because the City pays 100% of the premiums
for officers and their dependents. City Exhibit 32 takes the CPI-U
and the CPI-W indexes and excludes the medical care components. As
a basic matter, this shaves an additional .02% to .03% from the
affected CPI. From the City's point of view, the CPI excluding the
medical care component, provides the better method of measuring the
true impact of inflation on the members of this bargaining unit.
Members of this bargaining unit received a 7% increase in
1991 and a 3% increase in 1992 during the first two years of this
contract. The 10% increase over the first two years of the
Agreement far exceeds the CPI increases for that same period. When
viewed over the time span from 1984 through 1992, the City alleges
that actual wages of police officers have fared even better when
compared to the consumer CPI. City Ex. 36. During that period,
actual wages grew from $1,893 to $2,839, a cumulative increase in
wages of 50% over the period from 1984 to 1992. The CPI for that
same period was 35%. If officers' wages had grown by a sum equal
to the full CPI, the current salary would only be $2,550 per month.
Hence, the City submits a catch-up for inflation is not justified.
On the issue of internal parity, the City's proposal is
fair when compared with wages of other City personnel. Internal
parity is considered by interest arbitrators under the catchall
factor of the statute. RCW 41.56.460(c). When police salaries are
compared with salaries of firefighters, the police officers have
maintained a superior wage position since 1985. The top step for
a firefighter in 1992 was $2,662 versus $2,838 for a patrol
officer. There is no basis for an adjustment to bring police
salaries in line with fire, since they are already significantly
The City provided a 3% increase for 1993 for all
employees except firefighters. The firefighters received a 4.5%
increase to reflect the fact they had historically been behind
their compatriots in the police Department. There is nothing in
the internal parity factor that justifies the 17% to 19% increase
sought by the Guild in this interest arbitration.
It is also the position of the City that police wages are
fair in relation to wages paid by jurisdictions in the local labor
market. According to the City, a local labor market can be a
separate group of jurisdictions to use as comparables. The City
avers this factor is particularly relevant because conditions in
the local labor market affect a city's ability to attract and
retain qualified officers. Dr. Knowles testified that the
importance of the local labor market has traditionally been
utilized as a basis for establishing wages. The City offered the
following five jurisdictions as relevant in the local labor market.
Skagit County Sheriff's Department
This list includes all of the significant police and law
enforcement departments in Skagit County.
The average wage for police officers in the local labor
market in 1992 was $2,793. City Ex. 13. The top step pay for a
Mount Vernon police officer is $2,838. Because Mount Vernon police
officers already enjoy a salary that is higher than paid in the
local labor market, the Arbitrator should award the 3% offered by
In contrast to the Guild's position that Bellingham and
Everett are participants in the local labor market, the City argues
they are not in Mount Vernon's local labor market. The only basis
offered by the Guild for including Bellingham and Everett in the
local labor market was apparently on the ground of mileage between
Mount Vernon and the two cities. Bellingham and Everett have never
been discussed in bargaining as cities within Mount Vernon's labor
market. The expert testimony of Dr. Knowles was that Skagit County
was a self-contained labor market which did not include Everett to
the south or Bellingham to the north. This was supported by the
lack of significant commute patterns across Skagit County lines by
either Skagit County residents going elsewhere to work or non-
residents coming into Skagit County to work. As Dr. Knowles
pointed out this is a prime indicator of whether the local labor
market is localized or not. Residency patterns of officers also
support the localized nature of the labor market. All of the
officers live in Skagit County close to the City of Mount Vernon.
None of the officers live in Snohomish County or Whatcom County.
Bellingham and Everett are properly excluded from the
local labor market based on the significant difference in size.
The city of Everett has a population of 76,980 and Bellingham to
the north has a population of 55,480. Everett has a police
department comprised of more than 138 officers and Bellingham
employs 85 officers which is significantly higher than the 27
employed by this City. Based on population of these two cities and
the size of their police departments, there is no justification for
including them in the list of comparators for establishing Mount
Vernon police wages.
The City also argues that current economic conditions in
Skagit County do not warrant the Guild's wage proposal. The
region's economic condition is painfully reflected in its
continuing stagnant employment rate. With very few exceptions,
Skagit County unemployment rates have remained in double-digit
figures. Between May 1992 and May 1993 the unemployment rate
increased one full percentage point from 9.3% to 10.3%. City Ex.
46. These unemployment rates have exceeded state and national
levels for the period dated all the way back to 1970. Skagit
County qualifies as a distressed area, which is a measure of
ongoing unemployment which substantially exceeds the state average.
Skagit County is also designated as a "labor surplus area." All of
the counties which are on the City's proposed list of comparable
jurisdictions are on the labor surplus list. The bulk of the
Guild's comparables are not.
Per capita income figures for Skagit County also lag
significantly behind the state average. The industry make-up in
Skagit County is also troubling in that it has a high proportion of
seasonal employment. This seasonal employment is attributed to the
large agricultural base. City Ex. 53. The proposed residential
developments and the opening of Eagle Hardware do not equate to
economic vitality necessary to pay for the Guild's proposal.
The City's financial condition does not justify the
significant wage proposal of the Guild. If awarded, the total cost
increase in one year alone for this proposal would be $165,042. In
base salaries alone this reflects a 15.59% increase. While the
City is not making an inability to pay argument, the City's own
financial condition does not justify the "exorbitant wage proposal
demanded by the Guild." The City is also mindful of the clouds on
the financial horizon implicit in Initiative 601-602. These
initiatives raise the prospect of significantly reducing criminal
justice funding which would undermine the ability to maintain the
Police Department. Increasing taxes to fund the Guild's proposal
is impractical. Recent tax levies including a bond issue to
improve the police station and other City facilities have been
rejected by the voters. In 1992 the Mount Vernon School District
similarly had two budget failures for capital improvements. The
climate in Mount Vernon is not conducive to tax increases.
The facts in the record of this case demonstrate the
Department has had no turnover for reasons associated with salary.
No officer has left for other. departments over the last five years.
There is no turnover problem justifying a significant change in the
Private sector wage increases as reported by the Bureau
of National Affairs reveals first year increases for 1993 were 3%.
Wage increases for public employees ranged from a high of 4% from
1993 to the most common figure of 0% for this City's school
district. Wage increases by private employers in the area are also
consistent with the increase being offered by the City. Texaco is
awarding a 0% increase while Christianson Seed has granted 3.7%
increases for 1993. Adoption of the Guild's 17% proposal is
totally out of character with public and private sector settlements
in the Mount Vernon area. The City concluded in its post-hearing
brief as follows:
The City's proposal is fair, equitable
and consistent with the statutory factors.
The Guild's request for a 17% increase in one
year is none of these things: it is unfair,
inequitable and inconsistent with the
Brief, p. 64.
V. DISCUSSION AND FINDINGS
At the outset of this issue a few preliminary comments
about the statutory procedure are in order. RCW 41.56.460 refers
to the basis on which an interest arbitration award should be
formulated as "standards or guidelines to aid it in reaching a
decision." The Arbitrator is then directed to take into
,,consideration'' the factors listed in the provision. The listed
criteria are not defined in the law. Arbitral authority has
provided some guidance to the application of the statutory factors
to particular cases.
Both parties placed into the record numerous interest
arbitration awards in other Washington cases. The Arbitrator found
these decisions helpful in defining the parameters for this award.
As with any labor conflict, this case has its own unique facts
which required your Arbitrator to exercise his judgment on the
particular circumstances of this dispute.
The statute also provides that the Arbitrator may
consider other factors "not confined to the foregoing, which are
normally or traditionally taken into consideration in the
determination of wages, hours and conditions of employment." This
phrase allows the parties and the interest arbitrator considerable
latitude in determining what are the relevant facts on which to
base an award to resolve a contract dispute. The City asserted
several of its arguments should be evaluated under the "catchall"
The factors identified in the statute are "standards or
guidelines" which cannot be applied with surgical precision. The
relative weight to be given to any of the criteria listed in the
statute is not specified. Further, it is important to note that
this Arbitrator is responsible for applying the evidence to the
statutory factors even if the evidence submitted by the parties is
incomplete, misleading, selective or manipulative. Recognizing
these problems, it still remains the obligation of this Arbitrator
to apply the record evidence to the criteria set forth in the
statute. In assessing the evidence and argument on the wage issue,
the Arbitrator has attempted to extract facts from the record
evidence which provide reasonable and credible support for this
award. The starting point for the analysis of the evidence on the
wage issue in this case is comparability. Both sides devoted the
majority of their evidence and argument to the issue of
The submission of a dispute to interest arbitration does
not occur in isolation. It is part of the continuing relationship
between the parties to this Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Arbitrator Carlton Snow wrote in his City of Ellensburg (1992)
decision about avoiding the "charade" of comparability. Snow
correctly noted that it is reasonable for the parties to negotiate
vigorously about the proper jurisdictions of comparability.
However, he warned against the use of highly adversarial technical
data and studies to support opposite viewpoints. The opinion
expressed by arbitrator Snow was that the legislative intent was to
"design a principle-based decision making process, not a charade
disguised as a scientifically objective system."
In the present case both parties offered substantial
economic data, complex studies and expert testimony to bolster
their own respective positions. Each side vigorously challenged
the evidence offered by the other party as flawed, defective and
not statistically sound. Because of the methods by which each
party sought to justify its proposed comparators, this Arbitrator
was faced with a record that included little common ground on the
proper approach to selecting the appropriate comparators. Given
this situation, the Arbitrator felt justified in making greater
changes in the parties' proposed lists of comparators than I would
normally do in an interest arbitration.
A. Guild Proposal to Change the Wage Grid
The Guild proposed to reduce the current salary schedule
from an eight step schedule to a six step schedule. The City would
continue the current eight step schedule. The Arbitrator finds the
current wage grid should remain unchanged for 1993.
This interest arbitration is limited to the appropriate
wage level for the 1993 contract year. A reduction from nine years
to five years to reach the top step would be a significant
alteration of the salary schedule. In the context of a third year
wage reopener, the Arbitrator is not persuaded to award a drastic
change in a wage grid which has existed for over ten years.
Moreover, adoption of the Guild proposal would be
extremely costly. Based on the Guild's wage proposal, salary
increases for individual officers would range from 13% to 17%.
City Ex. 57. Even if a lower wage increase was awarded, the
additional costs to the City of a revised wage grid should not be
imposed by an interest arbitrator in a third year reopener.
Having rejected the Guild's proposed change for 1993, the
Arbitrator does find there are valid reasons to alter the existing
wage grid. However, any changes should be left to future
bargaining when the entire Collective Bargaining Agreement is open
for negotiation. A review of the police contracts contained in the
record reveals that an eight step salary schedule which takes nine
years to reach the top is not the norm.
The subject of changes in the wage grid should be left to
future negotiations. The Guild's proposal to reduce the eight step
salary schedule to a six step schedule for 1993 is rejected.
The Arbitrator finds after careful review of the evidence
and argument, as applied to the statutory criteria, that a 5%
increase for 1993 retroactive to
The 5% applied to the existing wage grid will establish a salary
schedule for 1993 to pay:
0 - 6 months 2393.00
6 mo-1 year 2449.00
Over 1-2 years 2519.00
Over 2-3 years 2575.00
Over 3-5 years 2829.00
Over 5-7 years 2879.00
Over 7-9 years 2930.00
Over 9 years 2980.00
0-2 years 3096.00
over 2-4 years 3201.00
over 4 years 3306.00
The reasoning of the Arbitrator is set forth in the discussion
Members of this bargaining unit were paid wages in 1992
on a schedule which read:
0-6 months 2278.75
6 mo-1 year 2331.92
Over 1-2 years 2398.83
Over 2-3 years 2452.08
Over 3-5 years 2693.58
Over 5-7 years 2741.83
Over 7-9 years 2790.17
Over 9 years 2838.42
0-2 years 2948.67
over 2-4 years 3048.92
over 4 years 3149.33
City Ex 72.
The parties agreed to a 7% increase for 1991 and an additional 3%
for 1992 which established the above salary schedule.
Two threshold issues developed between the parties over
the issue of determining comparability. First, the Guild argued
that only jurisdictions with a population above 15,000 should be
used for comparators. According to the Guild, jurisdictions below
15,000 do not employ "uniformed personnel" as defined by the
collective bargaining law. As such, they exist in a separate labor
market which cannot be considered as "like employers" under the
law. In the judgment of this Arbitrator, the statutory definition
of "uniformed personnel" does not automatically exclude all
jurisdictions with population less than 15,000 for purposes of
establishing comparators. To the extent proposed comparator
jurisdictions are below 15,000, they may logically affect the
weight to be given to the wages paid in a 15,000 and under
comparator. In my judgment, the statute does not mandate total
exclusion of a jurisdiction from a list of comparators simply
because the population is below 15,000.
The threshold population for law enforcement personnel
subject to interest arbitration has been changed by legislation.
The new legislation will reduce the threshold population to 7,500.
However, the change is not effective until July 1, 1995. The
recent legislative amendment argues against total exclusion from
the comparator list of all jurisdictions of less than 15,000
The second threshold question concerns the appropriate
benchmark with which to make wage comparisons. The Guild used the
Step 5 rate of $2,742 per month as the benchmark rather than the
top step. From the Guild's point of view, using a Step 5 rate
allowed for an apples to apples" comparison of wages. The
traditional benchmark for comparing wages is the top step wage.
Adoption of the Guild's approach would compel the Arbitrator to
ignore reality. Specifically, a Mount Vernon officer at Step 7
earns $2,790 and the officer at Step 8 earns $2,838. These amounts
are substantially higher than the Guild's purported "top step."
Nine of the 21 patrol officers are on Step 7 or Step 8.
The Arbitrator holds--under the circumstances of this
case--the top step wage is the appropriate level to make the
initial comparison. The fact it takes Mount Vernon officers nine
years to reach the top is entitled to some consideration when
making the detailed analysis of the comparator jurisdictions. If
it takes a police officer in a comparator city five years to reach
the top, and nine years for a
the top, this fact cannot be totally ignored by the Arbitrator. As
previously discussed, the parties need to address this issue in
Constitutional and Statutory Authority of the Employer
Regarding the constitutional and statutory authority of
the City, no issues were raised with respect to this factor.
Stipulations of the Parties
Regarding the factor of stipulations of the parties,
there were none of any significance presented to the Arbitrator.
The predominant and defining issue in this case was the
factor of comparability. The evidence offered by the parties on
the issue of comparability was extensive and the subject of
considerable controversy during the course of this proceeding. The
parties were sharply divided on the methodology which should be
used to select the comparator jurisdictions. Each side went to a
substantial effort to demonstrate the flaws in the approach used by
the opposing party in its effort to select the comparable
jurisdictions. The Guild challenged the City's methodology of
relying solely on population, to the exclusion of other factors, as
contrary to the statutory command to compare with "like employers."
The City alleged the Guild's multi-factor regression analysis "is
a results-oriented compilation of jurisdictions which are unlike
In addition to utilizing totally different methods to
select comparators, both parties to this contract made substantial
changes to the comparators utilized when the contract was first
negotiated. A review of the jurisdictions used when the contract
was first negotiated in 1990-91 discloses little or no resemblance
to the lists proposed to this Arbitrator in 1993. No satisfactory
explanation was offered by either party for the dramatic changes in
the comparator jurisdictions to be used as a guide to set Mount
Vernon police wages for 1993.
The only common jurisdictions on both lists were Aberdeen
and Port Angeles. In essence, there are no historical comparators
with which to measure police wages in Mount Vernon. On the issue
of establishing the comparators, this Arbitrator is starting from
the beginning, and not simply fine tuning what the parties have
already agreed to as appropriate comparators for establishing Mount
Regarding the City's methodology, the Arbitrator finds it
is too narrowly constructed to yield a sound base on which to
determine Mount Vernon police wages. By focusing solely on
population, the City ignores other elements that give insight into
determining "like employers." The problem is complicated by the
City's automatic exclusion of cities located in Snohomish, King,
Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties.
The results of the City's exclusive reliance on
population outside of the central Puget Sound region caused four of
its ten comparators to be from eastern Washington. The four cities
are Pasco, Wenatchee, Pullman and Walla Walla. Mount Vernon is not
an eastern Washington city. It is located on the Interstate 5
corridor within the "sphere of influence" of larger metropolitan
areas to the immediate north and south.
The influence of the metropolitan areas is reflected in
rapid population growth for Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon had a
population of 14,260 in 1986. In 1993 the population stood at
20,450. Since 1989 the population rose by 5,660 to its current
level. Guild Ex. III, F(3). The assessed valuation has almost
doubled from $476,118,903 in 1986 to $815,494,595 in 1992. Guild
Ex. II, E(2). These figures and others are indicative of a City in
transition, experiencing rapid growth.
Moreover, the City's methodology produced three
jurisdictions with less than 15,000 population. While I have
previously held automatic exclusion of jurisdictions under 15,000
is not compelled, it is my conclusion that utilizing three
jurisdictions out of the ten, with populations under 15,000 gives
too much weight to police units without interest arbitration.
The Arbitrator holds it is simply unrealistic for the
City to submit a list of ten jurisdictions composed of four eastern
Washington cities and three cities with less than 15,000 population
with which to compare wages and benefits for members of this
Turning to the Guild's proposed list of comparators, the
Arbitrator concludes it is too heavily weighted toward metropolitan
jurisdictions to the exclusion of all eastern Washington cities.
Further, Bremerton has a population of 36,380 which exceeds Mount
Vernon's population of 20,450 by 15,930. The Guild's own figures
also reveal Bremerton has substantially higher assessed valuation
and retail sales than Mount Vernon. Bremerton should be excluded
from the list of comparators. Longview should be excluded for
similar reasons, and by virtue of its distance from Mount Vernon.
Likewise, Des Moines should be deleted because it is in the center
of the Seattle urban area. While Mountlake Terrace has several
demographic characteristics similar to Mount Vernon, the geographic
location of the city in the immediate Seattle metropolitan area
warrants its exclusion from the list of comparators. As Mount
Vernon continues to grow, Mountlake Terrace represents a
jurisdiction which could be added to the list of comparators for
The Arbitrator accepts from the Guild's proposed list of
comparators the cities of Puyallup and Lacy. Both Lacy and Mount
Vernon are equidistance from Seattle. Lacy has 31 officers in its
Puyallup is somewhat larger with a population of 26,140
and a police department of 43 officers. Like Mount Vernon,
Puyallup is surrounded by rural area and remains far enough away
from Seattle that it cannot be considered a suburb.
Centralia is somewhat smaller than Mount Vernon.
However, its police department of 25 officers is close to the size
of Mount Vernon. Because Centralia is a small-town hub in the
center of a rural area and located on the Interstate 5 corridor, it
serves as an appropriate point of comparison for determining Mount
From the list of comparators offered by the City, the
analysis for determining the comparators. Both cities are located
in the same geographic area of the
the Guild would accept
comparable, if two conditions were met. The two conditions being
a collective bargaining agreement negotiated under the statute, and
a wage scale consistent with industry standards. In the judgment
of this Arbitrator, neither of these conditions is justification to
list because it is a rural city located in
Geographically, it is also the closest
valuation, retail sales, etc,
on the demographic variables.
Arbitrator agrees with the parties that
purposes, the third city of
both parties. The Guild also conceded that if the Arbitrator were
to use an eastern
the most logical choice. In the judgment of this Arbitrator, the
four jurisdictions of
The Arbitrator concludes the eight cities listed below
are appropriate comparators for establishing the wage level to be
City Population Size of Department
Anacortes 12,260 17
Lacy 22,660 31
Mount Vernon 20,450 29
The above list of eight cities provides a balanced group
of similarly sized, like employers. Anacortes and
located in the same labor market. The parties concur that
and Port Angeles are appropriate points of comparison. For all
practical purposes, the parties agree
list of comparators.
of the Cascades.
As did the parties, the Arbitrator focused on developing
a list of comparators which will not only be useful in 1993, but in
future negotiations. While the list of comparators adopted by the
Arbitrator is not perfect, it will serve to establish a solid base
for guidance in future negotiations. It is recognized some fine
tuning of the comparator list may be necessary in the next round of
bargaining. Because the Arbitrator developed his list of
comparators from both parties' lists, the salary data was not the
same, or was incomplete. Based on the best information available
in the record and from what I could discover from the contracts,
the wages for the comparators appear as follows:
City 1992 1993
Anacortes 2,859 *2,859
Average wage for 1993 including
cities without a 1993 settlement. 3,082
Average wage for 1993 of six cities
with 1993 contracts. 3,231
*Wage not settled at time of arbitration hearing.
Given the absence of complete data, the use of the
average wage figures is not as reliable a measure as this
Arbitrator would prefer. However, the figures do reveal generally
that as the wages stand for all eight jurisdictions it would take
a $244 per month increase to bring
of all cities or $393 per month to reach the average of the six
jurisdictions with 1993 settlements. While the City is not
arguing inability to pay, this Arbitrator is unwilling to award the
17% to 19% wage increase proposed by the Guild. The economic
a one-year increase of that magnitude. Nor is there any evidence
in the record of this case which convinced the Arbitrator of a need
paid in the comparable jurisdictions.
The 5% increase will set the top step salary at $2,980.
While this increase is larger than the 1993 increases for both
internal and external comparators, the Arbitrator took into account
it takes nine years to reach the maximum wage under the existing
salary schedule. The 5% increase is also consistent with
negotiated increases of 7% and 3% for 1991 and 1992 respectfully.
The 5% increase will position members of this bargaining
unit in the middle range of the comparators for 1993. For 1993 the
top salary will rank number six out of the nine jurisdictions. The
top step wage of $2,980 per month will put in place a wage schedule
that is competitive and reasonable in relation to the comparators.
The Arbitrator is also mindful of the fact members of this
bargaining unit continue to enjoy fully paid health insurance for
employees and dependents.
Cost of Living
Turning to the criteria of cost of living, the parties
differed in their approach to the issue. Evaluation of the
evidence presented on this factor is complicated by the fact there
is no established or recognized index for measuring cost of living
for Seattle or the ACCRA index. The Guild urged the Arbitrator to
use housing costs in
cost of living.
In contrast to the Guild, the City relied on the CPI as
a more accurate measure of the true impact of inflation on the
members of this bargaining unit. City Exs. 31-38. The City also
offered a study by Brent Baker on the subject of geographic cost of
living differences. City Ex. 39. Baker also testified regarding
his study and its conclusions.
With all of its faults and weaknesses, the Arbitrator
must give the greater weight to CPI as an indicator of the impact
of inflation on the members of this bargaining unit. The December
1991 CPI-U (All U.S. Cities) rose 3.1% from December 1990. The
December 1992 CPI-U (All
from December 1991. The CPI-W (All
percentage increases for the same periods. Given the fact members
of this bargaining unit received 10% increases during the first two
years of the contract, no conclusion is justified that a
substantial wage increase is necessary to compensate for the loss
in purchasing power due to inflation.
Turning to the testimony of Guild real estate expert Tom
Kelly, the Arbitrator accepts the testimony of Kelly to the extent
housing prices have been rapidly increasing in Mount Vernon.
Kelly's study indicated the average sales price of a Mount Vernon
home rose from $57,119 in 1986 to $119,448 in 1993. His conclusion
that growth and densely populated areas cling to, and expand along
the shoreline and freeways is also sound.
The Arbitrator cannot adopt the Guild's attempt to use
Kelly's work as the measure of relative cost of living between
jurisdictions. First, there is no uniformity in the source of the
information in Kelly's cost of living report. Second, the type of
home sought to be compared was not defined. Third, housing costs
are only one element of the cost of living.
In sum, the testimony and report of Kelly does not
justify the substantial wage increase claimed by the Guild in this
case. The 5% awarded by the Arbitrator is consistent with recent
increases recorded in the CPI.
On the factor of changes in the foregoing circumstances
during the pendency of this proceeding, the Arbitrator rejected a
Guild attempt to unilaterally submit evidence after the record had
Turning to the "other factors" which are normally or
traditionally taken into account in the determination of wages, the
Arbitrator finds four factors are worthy of consideration in the
present case. First, all City employees received a 3% increase for
1993, except the firefighters. The firefighters negotiated a 4.5%
increase. Second, 1993 wage increases for public and private
employees in the Mount Vernon area were modest ranging from 0% to
Third, the low Department turnover rate reveals a wage
level that is sufficiently competitive to attract and retain
qualified police officers.
Fourth, a 5% wage award for 1993 reflects the fact that
rapidly increasing population is making greater demands on the
members of this bargaining unit for police services in terms of
numbers and types of crimes.
In sum, the 5% increase and the establishing of
comparators will put in place a solid framework for negotiation of
the successor Agreement for 1994.
The Arbitrator awards that a 5% increase be applied
across the board to the existing salary schedule retroactive to
Gary L. Axon