By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – While the City Council approved the new arbitrated settlement between the city and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 364 at its meeting on March 3, there are still unresolved issues surrounding the police in the city.
The settlement was approved by the council and meant a new contract for officers will finally be in place after several years being without one. According to Attorney Kevin Coyle, who represented the union, the contract talks started in March 2012 and eventually went to arbitration through Commonwealth of Massachusetts Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC).
He described arbitration to the City Council as “a process in which no one gets everything that they want.”
Residency requirements were not discussed in the talks and the camera and recording systems in cruisers for which city officials advocated were rejected by the arbitration panel, but will be included in the next contract talks.
Councilors expressed their support for the police and concern about why the process took so long. Councilor Clodo Concepcion asked William Mahoney, the city’s director of Labor Relations and Human Resources, why it was so delayed.
Mahoney replied, “It’s not unusual for a contract to take this long when it goes to arbitration.”
Concepcion said he believed the process shows “an abuse of power” by the city.
Councilor Melvin Edwards wondered if “the city dropped the ball” when it came to the issue of having cameras in the cruisers.
Mahoney said the city pursued the issue “vigorously” and added, “Please be assured we did everything we could to get that into the contact.”
The following are the contract points settled in the arbitration and described in a memo dated Feb. 24 from Mahoney to Mayor Domenic Sarno.
• “The city proposed a two-year contract. The union proposed a one-year contract, followed by a three-year contract. The union proposal was awarded.”
• “The city proposed 0 percent [of wages] in year one and 1percent in year two. The union proposed 8 percent over 4 years. The union was awarded 0 [percent], 2 percent, 2 percent and 2 percent (the Union was awarded an additional 1.5 percent on July 1, 2014 to compensate the employees for a light duty proposal made by the employer).”
• “There is existing language in the contract which restricts the Police Commissioner in assigning officers to assignments. The city proposed to delete same. The city argued it is an inherent management right, that there is a recent Supreme Judicial Court case on point, and that the law governing the JLMC process itself notes that assignments are a management prerogative and are not to be a subject of a JLMC award. The panel awarded the issue to the union and maintained the status quo.
• “The union proposed to increase the amount of court time for officers on their work days from three hours to four hours. The city opposed the proposal. The panel awarded this issue to the union.”
• “Mobile video and audio recording system. The city proposed that police cruisers be outfitted with video cameras to record what is occurring on the street as well microphones to be worn by the officers on their uniforms. There has been a pilot program in the department for the past 18 months. The union opposed the city proposal and suggested in their brief that there be a study committee instead and that this be a topic for the next round of negotiations. The panel rejected the city’s proposal, ordered a study committee and stated that this can be a subject for the next round of negotiations.”
• “The union proposed to eliminate the current quartermaster system and to increase the existing $500 clothing allowance to $1,000. The city proposed to maintain the status quo. The panel rejected the Union’s proposal and maintained the status quo.”
• “The city has adopted Massachusetts General Law (MGL) Chapter 41 section 108(l) which is the Quinn bill. Under this law police officers receive an additional 10 percent of their base salary for a qualifying associate’s degree, 20 percent for a qualifying bachelor’s degree and 25 percent for a qualifying master’s or law degree. The state was reimbursing cities and towns for 50 percent of the cost of this benefit as provided for in the statute. The state decreased and then eliminated their reimbursement to cities and towns over the past few years. The city has paid the full cost of this benefit.
“The city of Boston unilaterally stopped paying its police officers the state’s share of the benefit. The SJC ruled that the city of Boston was within their rights to stop paying the state’s share of the benefit (a JLMC award more recently ordered Boston to pay the full benefit). Currently, employees hired before 2009 are entitled to education incentive payments. Employees hired after 2009 are not.
“The city reviewed this issue with the Law Department and outside counsel and determined that the prudent route was to negotiate with the Union over this benefit rather than act unilaterally as Boston did. In negotiations, mediation and arbitration the city proposed that it would only be responsible for 50 percent of the Quinn payments as well as any money received from the state for the state’s share of the benefit.
“The union proposed that the city’s proposal be rejected. Furthermore, the union proposed that the panel award a new education incentive to employees hired after 2009, who are disqualified from the Quinn benefit by statute, at the rate of 50 percent of the Quinn benefit. The panel rejected the city’s proposal and awarded an education incentive for employees hired after 2009 as proposed by the union.”
• “Officers who are injured on duty are entitled to full pay while out of work pursuant to MGL Chapter 41 section 111(f). The city proposed that officers who are injured on duty be required to return to work after a period of 12 weeks to perform light duty assignments, if they have been cleared to perform same. The city was successful in getting this proposal approved by a different JLMC panel in 2010 with the firefighters bargaining unit. The union proposed that if the city were awarded such a proposal the city should be required to pay for it. The union noted that in 1995 (18 years ago) the city negotiated a 3 percent cost of living allowance for police supervisors who agreed to a light duty program (with a much shorter out of work period). The city objected and noted that no premium was paid to the firefighters for this program just four years ago. The panel awarded a light duty program and required the city to pay a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment to all employees effective on July 1, 2014 (this is in addition to the general wage increase of 2 percent on July 1, 2014).”
• “Employees who are injured on duty are paid their full salary while out of work and their medical bills are paid for by the employer. On occasion there are disputes as to if an injury occurred in the course of employment and is covered by 111(f). The union proposed that appeals of these claims be filed to arbitration. The long history between the parties is that these appeals have always been heard in Superior Court. The city opposed the union proposal. The panel awarded the issue to the union.
• “Police officers can currently swap a given shift with another officer as long as they pay it back within the same pay period. The union proposed that the swap period be expanded to six weeks. The city opposed this and argued that with three shifts each day and multiple groups assigned to each shift this will be difficult to track and ensure that a swap has been paid back. The panel awarded the issue to the union.”
• “The city proposed a random drug and alcohol testing program. There is currently a reasonable suspicion-testing program in place. The union opposed the city’s proposal. The city had proposed a random drug and alcohol-testing program with the firefighters bargaining unit in 2012 in a JLMC arbitration. In the firefighter’s case the city was awarded one random test within the first 60 day-period after the date of the award. The neutral arbitrator in this matter had previously awarded a random drug and alcohol-testing program in another JLMC case in the city of New Bedford. The panel awarded one random test within 60 days of the date of the award. No other random testing is allowed.”
In a written statement, Mayor Domenic Sarno stated “Given the recent debate about accountability I am disheartened by the arbitrator’s award not to allow [Police] Commissioner Fitchet and the city to implement a mobile video and audio recording system in police cruisers, to dis-continue the practice of management’s inability to assign officers and random drug testing. In addition, instead of seeking a unilateral approach to the Quinn Bill we tried to negotiate a fair and balanced approach; The JLMC found otherwise. However, by law I understand that the result is binding upon the executive branch of the city, subject to the approval of the funding request I am submitting to the City Council and stand ready to implement the award if it is not rejected. In the event that is rejected by the City Council, we will continue with bargaining.”