$600K price on Tisbury police contract
A state labor relations board with responsibility for arbitrating police and fire contracts has settled a nearly three-year long contract dispute between the town of Tisbury and the union that represents Tisbury police officers.
In a binding decision dated Jan. 21, the Massachusetts Joint Labor Management Committee for Municipal Police and Fire (JLMC) resolved a list of nine outstanding issues that had divided the two sides. Wages, hourly pay rates and work rules were at the heart of the contract impasse.
The price tag to taxpayers, who must still approve the settlement, is expected to be about $600,000. That includes funding 3.5 percent annual pay increases, retroactive to July 1, 2007, the date when the contract at the heart of the long running dispute was to have gone into effect. That contract is set to expire on June 30, this year, and a new round of negotiations must begin.
The Labor Management Committee is a state board formed in 1977 to speed resolution of municipal police and fire contract disputes statewide. The committee includes union and management officials from around the state and has the power to order cases into mediation, or if that fails, binding arbitration.
Under the committee's enabling statute, any award made by the committee must be submitted to voters for appropriation.
The Tisbury police contract negotiations began in May 2007, soon after Tisbury police officers left the AFL-CIO and formed their own union. Discussions between police and town representatives took place against a backdrop of continuing police management turmoil, strained relationships and charges of micromanagement by elected officials and a sexual harassment charge brought by a female member of the department.
Chief Theodore "Ted" Saulnier, who was brought in to help resolve existing management and morale issues, retired on June 9, 2006, when he and the selectmen were unable to agree on the terms of a new contract. Selectmen appointed patrolman Timothy Stobie acting chief. Selectmen later hired Capt. John Cashin of the Norwalk, Conn. Police Department. Three months short of the end of his three-year contract in May 2009, Chief Cashin lashed out publicly at selectmen and members of his own department and resigned. Selectmen then appointed Dan Hanavan interim chief, a position he continues to hold.
On June 4, 2009, the JLMC wrote to both sides and invoked a provision that allowed for issue by issue arbitration. "The committee now finds that there is an apparent exhaustion of the processes of collective bargaining, which constitutes a potential threat to public welfare," the committee wrote.
An arbitration panel made up of a committee representative representing police, a management representative, and a neutral chairman reviewed seven issues forwarded by the town and seven by the police union.
With some modifications to the dollar amounts requested, the board supported the town on five points and the police union on four points.
For example, the town offered a 3.5 percent wage increase. The police wanted four percent and two new step scales retroactive to the start of the contract. The JLMC settled on 3.5 percent, but added two new step scales, one for patrolmen and another for sergeants, but made the steps effective January 1, 2010, and boosted the pay limits for both positions by four percent.
In arriving at its decisions, the arbitration board said it considered the town's ability to pay arguments, the fact that other town bargaining units had received 3.5 percent increases, the departure of officers and comparable pay rates in the neighboring towns of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown.
"The panel is convinced that the appropriate manner to make some progress in creating a level playing field between the three largest Island communities with respect to attraction and retention, while at the same time remaining true to the principle of internal consistency by means of the 3.5 percent wage increases, is to add an additional step to both the Tisbury patrol officer wage scale and the Tisbury sergeant wage scale."
The board granted an increase in the hourly differential paid to police officers who work the 4 pm to midnight shift from $1.45 to $1.50 per hour and an increase from 80 cents to $2 per hour on the midnight to 8 am shift.
"It is a well recognized aspect of shift work that there are consequences to individuals serving on shifts other than the day shift. There are real physical and emotional consequences," the panel said. "The panel is convinced that the current level of night shift differentials paid in Tisbury is so dramatically low compared to comparable communities that they warrant updating."
The panel also addressed the system of shift assignments. Under the current system, senior patrol officers bid for a shift and can mix and match day and evening shifts. The town wanted a system under which officers would need to take a specific shift with no mixing of days and nights.
The panel said the process would continue to be based on seniority but consist of one of three existing shifts.
The panel took no action, essentially dismissing, a town request to use road flaggers in place of police details for town construction projects; and a proposal that the definition of emergencies include calls for service regarding injured domestic animals.
The panel rejected a union request for $2,500 in compensation for police trained as EMTs; and additional compensation for advanced degrees.
This week, reaction to the labor committee award was muted.
Michael Gately, Tisbury police officer and union shop steward, declined to comment on the award pending a joint meeting of all parties.
"I would say that overall the arbiters' decision was a fair decision," Tristan Israel, chairman of the selectmen and the board's representative during the negotiations, said of the decision.
Mr. Israel said the key issue throughout the long process was always cost and uniformity. He said the town's position was that it would offer the same increase, 3.5 percent, provided to the other town unions.
"Actually, things have changed and have become tighter today than what they were three years ago," he said.
Asked why the process took so long, Mr. Israel said the two sides could not reach agreement on the pay scale. "Not that there weren't other issues," he said.
Mr. Israel said voters would be asked to fund the contract award. Asked what would happen if the voters reject the cost, he said, "Then you go back to the drawing board."
Mr. Israel said there would be no time to relax. He said the town would soon begin negotiations on a new contract.
John Bugbee, Tisbury town administrator, said the current estimate to fund the contract is approximately $600,000. He said that money has not been set aside.
Asked to comment on the award, Mr. Bugbee said, "I'm okay with it. Any ruling in which both sides are not exactly jumping for joy is probably a good compromise."
Mr. Bugbee said the biggest sticking point throughout the process was wages. Mr. Bugbee said he thinks the next agreement will be easier to reach.
"I do not think anyone wants to go back through this process," Mr. Bugbee said. "It is long, it takes a lot out of everybody, and no one likes to sit and argue with people that you are hoping to go back to town and work with and have productive relationships with. But at the same time, what do you do if neither side is willing to budge? It is tough."