Friday, December 15, 2006
Police contract may be headed to arbitration
In over 18 months of negotiation, Carlisle has been unable to reach agreement with police union Local 201 on a contract. The police contract is negotiated every three years, and the last one expired on July 1, 2005. Unless a last-minute miracle occurs, the town and the police union will be heading to binding arbitration in January 2007, and a state arbitrator will hear both sides and make a decision. "It's a little risky," said Selectman Doug Stevenson. "Our preference would be to settle among the parties. But at some point you have to say the parties haven't gotten there."
Wages a key issue
Carlisle police union president Steve Mack recently met with the Mosquito to discuss the reasons for the impasse. "The main issue is wages," he said, noting most town employees are getting 3.5% to 4% increases while the police are being offered "one, one and a half, two and a half percent." Other issues include whether overtime should be reserved for full-time officers, a proposed capping of longevity increases, whether bereavement leave should apply only to immediate family, and pay and time off for sergeants.
The contract was last renewed in 2002. At that time, salary increases of 3.25% for FY03, 3.5% for FY04, and 3.75% for FY05 were provided. However, longevity pay, which provides a 4 to 8% increase depending on years of service, stipends, and Quinn Bill salary increases for extra training, brought the average increase to 10% in FY04 (see editorial "Who's watching the Budget Busters," Mosquito January 31, 2003). To meet the budget guideline, police education had to be cut from $18,329 in FY03 to $8,384 in FY04 and $13,054 in FY05.
Many meetings yield no resolution
Mack says that contract meetings with the negotiating committee, consisting of Stevenson, Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie, Police Chief John Sullivan, and a lawyer hired as negotiator, Nick Anostasopoulas, began in March 2004. "Since that time we've met more than 15 times." Mack believes Anostasopoulas's presence has delayed an agreement. "The negotiator is unwilling to be reasonable. If he weren't there, the contract would be settled at a reasonable rate for the town." Noting that there are only eight union officers, Mack adds, "The town could end up paying the lawyer more than one year's increase in the contract (at the union's requested rate)." Part time officers and the police chief and lieutenant are not included in the contract.
Stevenson, who took over negotiations for the selectmen when Tony Allison left the board, agrees the process has been frustrating. But he defends the decision to hire a negotiator. "The contract is a complicated document. It's difficult for a volunteer board to get its arms around all the issues. Someone who does this professionally brings a broader context," including familiarity with police union contracts in other towns. In addition, the police receive assistance from the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, so hiring a negotiator for the town "provides a balanced field."
Overtime, other issues unresolved
Mack says that overtime should go to full time officers because part timers are less well trained. "Full time officers are here all the time and know the people. It's a safety issue." He adds that overtime has already been cut 50% with the hiring of a traffic officer this year, and "if they took away more overtime, it's like not getting a raise." Also, health care costs are rising at a 12% rate, and most officers have the family health plan to which they must contribute 50%. "A 1% raise (in salary) doesn't pay for those increases," he says.
Mack also notes that the three Carlisle sergeants are paid $4,000 less than in Concord, and are required to work every weekend Saturday and Sunday. "No other town requires that." And while he admits the police bereavement leave is more generous than that for other town employees, "we gave up other things to get that, and are not being offered anything in return."
Stevenson declines to discuss specific issues, but says, "We can't negotiate away the management rights of the police chief." Those include, "how shifts are filled, what he can do regarding calling people in to duty" and other prerogatives "he needs to run the operation." Asked about using part time officers, Stevenson notes the town has "a long history of using special police. I'm very pleased with the performance of the special police officers. I don't share the concern that Steve expresses" regarding compromised safety.
Mack says that town officials are "under a gag order not to talk to us" and believes the problem could be solved if the police could speak directly with the selectmen or town administrator without the lawyer interface. "If they offered us what other employees are getting (3.5%) this could probably have been done." But he believes the paid negotiator has no incentive to resolve the issues, "He doesn't get paid if we settle the contract."
Stevenson, in response, says, "A fairer description is we've been working with the negotiator as a team. It wouldn't make sense to hire a negotiator and then go outside." He believes Anostasopoulas has helped the process, "In my opinion, hiring a negotiator is very worth while . . . for really understanding the contract and helping advise us." He adds, "We want to continue to attract and retain a strong quality police force. On the other hand, we need a fair and reasonable contract that protects the taxpayer."
Mack concludes, "The department runs well with Chief Sullivan. There's not a problem, and we don't want to change" the way things have been done. He adds, "This is the longest we've gone without a contract, by far. They could resolve this if they wanted to."
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