When the village of North Riverside and its police officers last inked a union contract, negotiations had dragged on for more than a year and the deal was for three years, ending April 30, 2016.

On Aug. 1, the village’s board of trustees voted unanimously on a new deal already approved by the union – an unprecedented five-year contract that took all of three months – and a total of about 6 hours during three meetings — to hammer out.

The contract expires April 30, 2021.

Union negotiators said the process went smoothly, because neither side came in with any hard lines.

“We believe this particular contract negotiation went smoothly because both sides came in with open minds,” said Sgt. Christopher Boenzi, a member of the union negotiating team, in response to questions emailed to both him and union president, Officer Mike Eck. “We were both very reasonable with the requests during this contract and both had reasonable expectations.”

Police Chief Lane Niemann said an across-the-board change in philosophy regarding employee salary and benefits played a large part in the ease of negotiations. The goal is to make sure things like base pay raises, vacation times, personal days and insurance coverage are identical for all employees, union and non-union, he said.

“Part of the difference is the management philosophy in North Riverside, where we want everyone to have the same [benefits],” Niemann said. “There’s more uniformity around the entire village.”

Niemann expressed some measure of relief that the process was so smooth this time around. Since he was named deputy police chief in 2009, Niemann said, “It feels like I’ve been negotiating a lot of contracts.”

“It was a fair deal for all parties involved,” added Niemann, who before his promotion to management had negotiated on the union side for about 15 years. All previous contracts were for three years, he said.

The contract calls for base salary raises of 2.5 percent each year, though step raises during an officer’s first seven years on the job accelerate raises significantly. It also moves any employee hired after July 1, 2016 off of the present health insurance plan and onto the plan approved by the village board earlier this year for non-union employees and which was agreed to in a recent five-year contract negotiated with police dispatchers.

The new health plan includes both HMO and PPO options, but both plans will cost the village less than the one previously offered to their employees.  

Police officers will also see their share of health insurance premiums rise. Under the old contract, officers’ health insurance premium contributions were capped at 12.5 percent. By 2019, the officers’ contribution toward health insurance premiums will be 15 percent, where it will remain through the end of the deal.

The contract also establishes a flexible health spending program where employees can contribute an amount of pre-tax wages to pay medical bills.

“We believe the new health insurance plans are still very good and feel confident they will provide proper care/coverage for future police department employees,” Boenzi said.

Another new clause in the contract specifies that the village will reimburse officers who complete classes in Spanish language and sign language fluency. While the contract already called for reimbursement for classes related to law enforcement, both sides agreed adding the language provision was a good idea.

“Obviously, we feel we have a need to it here,” said Niemann. “It’s always an asset. We have several Spanish-speaking officers, but it’s always good to have more.”

According to the new salary schedule, a police officer hired May 1, 2016 would make $56,159. That same officer by the end of the contract, by virtue of step raises in each of the following four years, would be making $92,984 annually, an overall increase of 65.5 percent.

Officers receive annual step raises during the first five years and in the seventh year of their careers in North Riverside. After that, they don’t see another step increase until they put in 20 and 25 years on the force.

The top salary for a patrolman who has worked 25 years, according to the contract, would be $107,065.

A sergeant’s pay is 10-percent greater than a patrolman with the same service time. Salary for a sergeant with 25 years’ experience at the end of the new contract would be $118,086.

According to a seniority list included as an appendix to the contract, there are just two officers with 25 years’ experience and two with at least 20 years’ experience on the force. Eight officers have between nine and 15 years’ experience and nine have between two and seven years under their belts.