ST. LOUIS — The City of St. Louis has reached a landmark pay raise agreement with the St. Louis Police Officers Association that will give officers and sergeants their largest raises in at least two decades.
The raises – which translate to about $6,000 to $8,000 for officers with 10 years of experience – are part of a collective bargaining agreement that more than 2/3 of the city’s police officers and almost all of its sergeants agreed to Thursday, according to St. Louis Police Officers Association Business Manager Joe Steiger.
Officers and sergeants have been operating without a contract since June 30, 2020. Mayor Tishaura Jones took office the following year, and union leaders have been critical of Jones' decisions regarding police issues including reducing its manning table by 100 officers.
Steiger said several members of Jones' administration, including newly-appointed Chief Robert Tracy, newly-appointed Personnel Director Sonya Jenkins-Gray and Chief Operations Officer Nancy Cross "put this over the finish line."
“It’s a meaningful raise,” he said. “It closes the gap and it’s a step in the right direction.”
The new contract also came with some costs to union members – including officers giving up their right to have a say in seniority, transfers and arbitration issues.
Steiger said what was given up wasn't as important as trying to stop officers from leaving at record rates to other higher-paying agencies.
“We understand people weren’t leaving the police department because they didn’t get senior pick on vacation schedules, they were leaving because they were so underpaid and we were addressing the most pressing need,” Steiger said. “When you’re bleeding officers, you have to take drastic measures and we have to do everything we can to recruit and retain and we agreed to it.
“The troops are happy. Everyone that walked in that voted said, ‘It’s not great, but I’ll take it, it’s the best we’ve had in a long time.’ And we did it without a tax increase,” he added.
The move comes at a time when the police union is lobbying to have the state take control of the police department.
City leaders included a provision in the new contract that allows the raises to be revoked should the state get control of the department. Steiger declined to comment on the issue.
Firefighters will get raises from the agreement, too. That’s because the city has a pay parity charter provision between police and firefighters.
Police commanders also will see bumps in their pay because the city also has a regulation that prohibits pay compression between ranks. The cost of those raises will have to be determined by city budget leaders, Steiger said.
Steiger estimates the total pay raises will cost the city at least $16 million.
Union and city leaders are expected to sign the collective bargaining agreement sometime next week, and the raises will take effect July 1.
Once signed, every officer and sergeant will get a $3,000 retention incentive, Steiger said.
Here is a look at how the new raises break down:
- Starting pay for officers will rise to almost $54,000 from $50,600.
- Officers with 0-10 years on will get 8% raises.
- Those with 11-20 will get 10% raises.
- And those with 21-30 years will get 12%.
- Sergeants with those experience levels will see raises of 9%, 11% and 13%.
Agreeing to the raises also means disciplinary matters will now be handled solely through the civil service process without a separate process for officers.
Steiger believes a state law, known as the Officer’s Bill of Rights, still gives officers due process rights during disciplinary proceedings. It’s a law that city leaders are challenging in court.
Police union representatives also can no longer use “release time” for union business and now must use their personal time off.
It’s one of the ways the new contract differs from the St. Louis County contract, where the police union allows a full-time officer to conduct union business, Steiger said.
The raises in the agreement also don’t align city officer pay with the St. Louis County Police Department – one of the departments that has hired away many of the city’s officers.
For example, a 15-year county policeman will make about $9,700 more than a city policeman. A sergeant with 15 years on the city will make about $14,000 less than a county sergeant.
Starting pay for a new county officer will be about $2,000 more than new city cops.
“The city ignored pay raises for so long and put themselves so far behind, it’s going to take years to get close to them, but we got a pretty decent bite of the apple,” Steiger said.
The mayor's office issued the following statement:
Along with several other unions, the city has been negotiating around wages and antiquated language in an effort to improve competitiveness, operations, and accountability in our departments. This agreement will help the city be more competitive in hiring and retention. The City of St. Louis continues to expand alternatives to policing - community violence intervention, social work components, diversion programs, and dedicated funds towards youth programs - as we work to reimagine public safety and reduce burden on officers so they can focus on their main job: solving violent crime. Retaining local control of the department is critical in doing so.
In this agreement, the City won important language changes around accountability, including a provision that promotes local control of the police department. This is a testament to how under local control parties can work together towards a compromise solution.
The City will not share the written agreement until it is executed by both parties.
Statement from Ethical Society of Police:
"ESOP has been involved in Collective Bargaining negotiations over the last few years, and we are glad to see it come to fruition at last. This pay raise applies to all SLMPD officers to finally put their wages within range of St. Louis County. This is a good start to help with retention but there is a lot more than needs to be done.
We have won half the battle, but the other half of the battle is making sure that the civilians and dispatchers who work under the police department umbrella as well as those who work for the city are compensated compatible to the surrounding area."
Statement from the Greater St. Louis, Inc.
“Strengthening public safety in St. Louis is the most critical policy issue we must address to ensure the entire metro’s economic competitiveness,” said Greater St. Louis, Inc. CEO Jason Hall. “Investing in increased pay for those on the front lines of keeping St. Louis safe is long-overdue and will help the City recruit and retain the law enforcement we need. We applaud Mayor Jones and leaders from her administration, Chief Tracy, the Police Officers Association, and the Ethical Society of Police for getting this done.
“Today’s announcement also shows how Chief Tracy deserves the opportunity to lead the SLMPD and put in place the plans necessary to reduce violent crime in the City.
“Last August, Comptroller Green rightly raised the need to take new steps to address public safety in St. Louis, including addressing the compensation disparities and employing creative incentives to attract new public safety employees. We thank her for her leadership in bringing specific ideas forward and are pleased to see how today’s outcome reflected her call to action.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate information about a St. Louis County police raise based on information provided by the St. Louis Police Officers Association. It has been corrected