Gainesville Police Department currently has 22 vacancies for officers as contract negotiations for officers on the force are underway. The city and police union are meeting today, and salaries and benefits are on the table.

After two years of negotiations and four months of continued grievances, Gainesville will have to answer to its police union.

The State Labor Board granted the Gainesville Fraternal Order of Police, the local police union, a hearing for its charges against Gainesville Thursday, according to an email sent by Matt Goeckel, the police union spokesperson.

The union filed unfair labor charges with the Public Employee Relations Commission, a government-appointed board responsible for labor disputes, on Nov. 7, the release said.

The charges come after the union claimed the city violated the union’s right to bargain and schedule work hours and their refusal to meet with them, the release said

On Sept. 7, the City Commission voted 4-3 to approve a proposal which would allow Chief Tony Jones to set the officers’ work hours anywhere from eight to 12 hours at a time.

At the same meeting, the commission denied the union’s proposal of a “step up plan” that would increase officer wages by two percent every year. Instead, the city passed a motion for a one-time payment of $800 in addition to a flat rate wage increase.

Goeckel told The Alligator in September that the commission’s decision was a slap in the face.

“We’re not being vindictive other than trying to protect our member’s rights,” Goeckel said.

The union members refused to vote on the contract that came out of the meeting. The city interpreted the refusal to vote as a rejection of the contract, according to a memo from Scott Heffner, the city’s employee and relations manager. Heffner sent the memo to officers Thursday.

Until a new agreement is reached, GPD officers employed as of October 2016 forfeit a $1,300 allowance for laundry expenses, an $800 one-time payment and the flat rate wage increase for officers, the memo said.

GPD declined to comment about the unfair labor charges, wrote spokesperson Cpt. Jorge Campos in an email.

Goeckel said the dispute has been killing morale.

“If the city continues to do things like this, people are going to look for jobs elsewhere,” he said.

The union criticized the city and the agency in a letter Nov. 18 for its handling of an event where a man was shot after a rap concert. Four of the agency’s police officers resigned from its SWAT team in November.

“They support us, at best, as a necessary evil,” Goeckel said. “They have lost sight of the fact that their core services are the people they need to take care of.”

Contact Alyssa Ramos at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LysKRamos