This year has been a hard bargain.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seeped into all aspects of daily life as it spread throughout Hidalgo County, drastically changing life for residents in 2020.

That reality is not lost on the McAllen Professional Law Enforcement Association, which on Oct. 1 inked a one-year collective bargaining agreement with the city of McAllen.

“We were fortunate to sign it,” says Sgt. Rolando Castillo, president of the MPLEA. “This year, we recently won the right to negotiate the contract. So we just wanted to come here and just say that the city and ourselves negotiated in good faith, especially with these difficult times with COVID. There’s been a lot of financial issues.”

Castillo is referring to the city of McAllen’s loss of sales tax revenue as a result of the Department of Homeland Security’s prohibition on non-essential travel into the United States from Mexico, and because of the county-wide shutdown that included numerous business closures as a result of officials trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Hidalgo County — a hotspot for the virus.

In mid-September, McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez said sales tax revenue was down about $7 million for the fiscal year.

“Even through all this we understand where the Valley stands in a financial aspect. So we were able to negotiate some administrative items that were not monetary,” Castillo said. “We signed a one-year contract so next spring we’ll start negotiating another contract and hopefully it will be more beneficial with pay and benefits once the Valley’s in a better place financially. Hopefully, we’re in a better place with this situation.”

Because of the difficult financial situation, Castillo said the MPLEA was unable to negotiate a pay raise for officers.

“Monetary issues from the get-go was kind of a subject that was preferred to be set for a later date with all the circumstances, bottom line COVID,” Castillo said. “Hopefully, the city will have been reimbursed all the federal funds that have been promised to pay them back for all their expenditures and hopefully the city will be back in a better situation, not just with the monies they’re out, but also with the sales tax revenue picking back up.”

Increased pay and better benefits are sorely needed to improve officer retention, says Sgt. Jesus Regalado, the MPLEA treasurer.

He says many officers join the McAllen Police Department as a stepping stone to the Texas Department of Public Safety or to federal agencies like the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection or the DEA, all of which offer better pay.

When those agencies see that an applicant is a McAllen police officer, it makes them more attractive for hiring because of the department’s reputation for training in addition to thorough background checks and the sheer amount of experience gained working for one of the busiest police departments in the Rio Grande Valley, Regalado says.

Castillo echoed that sentiment.

“We get excellent training. We get a ton of experience and exposure to all types of criminal, civil and medical situations,” Castillo said. “So guys that work with us and proceed to continue somewhere else, they are assets.”

According to Castillo and Regalado, the salary and benefits paid to officers at the McAllen Police Department are not on par with similarly sized cities throughout the state of Texas.

“One of our main goals is the McAllen Police Department should be established back to its glory where everyone wants to work here and stay here,” Regalado said.

Most of the pieces to that equation are already in place, they say.

Regalado praised the McAllen Police Department for the resources it has available for officers to do their jobs and Castillo commended Chief Victor Rodriguez for his leadership.

“I mean, the chief’s very future thinking and keeping us on top of the times so we have tons of units to cover every type of possibility out there,” Castillo said. “It’s a great department. We just need to get everything to its greatness to include pay and benefits.”

And both Regalado and Castillo believe those issues will be addressed next spring, when the MPLEA’s negotiating team sits down with the city to work on a new collective bargaining agreement.

“The city is looking very optimistic on wanting to work with us and hopefully we can jump the hurdle of the disparity,” Castillo said.

According to Castillo, Mayor Jim Darling and Rodriguez, the city manager, were receptive to discussing an increase in pay and beefing up benefits next year.

“They all sounded very optimistic to get us a fair contract and hopefully that will get us where the officers should be,” Castillo said.

It’s also of note that this is the first time the MPLEA has negotiated the collective bargaining agreement on behalf of officers of the McAllen Police Department and both Castillo and Regalado noted that there was a learning curve which was exacerbated by the pandemic.

“This was a large learning curve for us being it was the first contract we negotiated,” Castillo said.

The MPLEA is a Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas union, or CLEAT. Castillo and Regalado said they won the right to negotiate through an election where officers voted between the MPLEA and the McAllen Police Association, a Texas Municipal Police Association, or TMPLA, union.


BY THE NUMBERS:

>> McAllen PD – starting salary $54,790/est. pop. 143,268

>>   Mesquite PD – starting salary $63,147/est. pop. 140,957

>>   Killeen PD – starting salary $52,414/est. pop. 149,103

>>   Carrollton PD – starting salary $64,831/est. pop. 136,879

>>   Midland PD – starting salary $61,910/est. pop. 146,039

>>   Waco PD – starting salary $60,350/est. pop. 139,236

>>   Denton PD – starting salary $64,486/est. pop. 141,541

>>   Abilene PD – starting salary $58,142/est. pop. 122,999

>>   Average salary $60,098

Neighboring agencies

>>   Edinburg PD – starting salary $62,246/ est. pop. 101,170

>>   Pharr PD – starting salary $45,585/est. pop. 79,112

>>   Mission PD – starting salary $45,458/est. pop. 84,331

>>   Weslaco PD – starting salary $47,776/est. pop. 41,629

>>   Average salary $50,266

SOURCE: McAllen Professional Law Enforcement Association

“However, the amount of work and responsibilities is vastly different with our department producing much more work and service to our citizens.” — MPLEA