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Allegheny

Pittsburgh's commanders want to join the police union so they can relocate

Bob Bauder
| Friday, July 7, 2017, 4:36 p.m.
From left to right, Cmdr. Ed Trapp, Cmdr. Cristyn Zett, and Cmdr. Stephen Vinasky raise their hands as they take their oath during a promotion ceremony for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in City Council Chambers on Monday, July 11, 2016 in Downtown. The three were all promoted from lieutenant to commander.
Stephanie Strasburg
From left to right, Cmdr. Ed Trapp, Cmdr. Cristyn Zett, and Cmdr. Stephen Vinasky raise their hands as they take their oath during a promotion ceremony for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in City Council Chambers on Monday, July 11, 2016 in Downtown. The three were all promoted from lieutenant to commander.

Pittsburgh police commanders, long classified by the city as management employees, are seeking union membership that would provide benefits including a right to live outside city limits.

Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 members are set to vote Tuesday on the request, said FOP President Robert Swartzwelder. If it's approved, he said, the union would petition the city to include commanders in its bargaining unit.

Kevin Acklin, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff, said commanders are appointed by the mayor and considered non-union managers. The city employs 12 commanders who oversee specialty units and the city's six stations. Their 2017 base salary is $94,962.

They are Mary Degler, Karen Dixon, Shirley Epperson, Daniel Herrmann, Eric Holmes, Victor Joseph, Reyne Kacsuta, Jason Lando, Christopher Ragland, Ed Trapp, Stephen Vinansky and Cristyn Zett. Holmes also serves as chief of staff.

“The FOP cannot merely vote to accept the commanders into the bargaining unit,” Acklin said. “The commanders are not presently in the bargaining unit because they are supervisors and thus statutorily excluded from being in the bargaining unit. The city is unaware of any changes in the duties of commanders, which would necessitate a change in their classification.”

Commanders contacted by the Tribune-Review on Friday declined comment.

Swartzwelder said the union would petition the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board if the vote is successful and the city objects to the change. He said police officers appear to be split over the issue.

“There's a lot of guys leaning away from bringing them in, but then I've got a percentage who are for bringing them in and say that's a good thing,” he said.

The police union has about 800 members, including patrol officers, detectives, sergeants and lieutenants.

Swartzwelder said commanders have not been included in collective bargaining for at least 25 years, even though some continued paying union dues after their promotions.

The Mayor's Office sets their salaries and benefits like all other city managers.

“What (commanders) have told me is they want to improve their working conditions, and one of those conditions is residency,” Swartzwelder said.

The city for more than a century required all employees, including police, to live within city limits.

In May, the FOP won a years-long battle with the city when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sided with an arbitration panel, which ruled in 2014 that police officers could live outside the city's boundaries, provided they are within 25 air miles of the City-County Building, Downtown.

Some officers have since changed their addresses .

Pittsburgh still requires all other employees, including commanders, to live in the city, said Katie O'Malley, a spokeswoman for Peduto.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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