Op-Ed: Tisbury officials and police ask voters to fund contract settlement

Geoghan Coogan, Jeff Kristal, and Tristan Israel, Tisbury selectmen, and Sergeant Robert Fiske for the Tisbury Police Union jointly prepared this essay.

At 7 pm on Tuesday, June 29, Tisbury will hold a special town meeting to seek the passage of two separate, but related, spending articles concerning the town’s collective bargaining agreement with the Tisbury Police Union. The details of the collective bargaining agreement were the result of a Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC) Arbitration Award which both the town and the Tisbury Police Union agree is a fair and equitable resolution. The town and the Tisbury Police Union encourage Tisbury residents to attend the special town meeting and support the passage of these two articles.

At Tisbury’s annual town meeting in April, these two articles were presented as a single article requiring a Proposition 2.5 override, which received support at town meeting, but was defeated when placed on the ballot. It is our belief that defeat came as a result of your leaders’ failure in our job to educate the voting public as to details of the article. As a result of internal town discussions and a meeting held with the police union employees after the article’s defeat, the town discovered viable funding alternatives and made the decision to present the initial annual town meeting article as two separate funding articles at the special town meeting.

The first article involves an amount of $125,000 to fund the arbitration award relative to the three-year police union contract set to expire on June 30, 2010. The second article involves an amount of $100,000 to provide funding for police compensation increases established by the arbitration award for fiscal year 2011 beginning July 1, 2010. The voters must understand that this contract is for the past three years. We are about to begin negotiations for a new contract, but cannot begin that process without the prior contract being completed.

Whereas, we think it is important for the voters to fully understand the nature and importance of this matter, we would like to take this opportunity to briefly explain the history behind these articles. The town of Tisbury and the Tisbury Police Union began contract negotiations for a three-year agreement in 2007, shortly after the prior three-year contract had expired. Both the town and the police union negotiated in good faith, but were unable to come to a mutually agreeable contract. In order to obtain resolution of this negotiation, both parties agreed to submit the matter to the JLMC for binding arbitration.

Arbitration is a process by which an arbiter reviews written proposals from both sides of an issue, and renders a decision which becomes binding on both parties. The negotiations are, in effect, concluded by the arbitration award. However, since this type of arbitration requires a payment from the town, it is left to the voters of the town to approve the necessary funding for the award. Should the voters oppose the requisite funding, the town and the police union can either agree upon the terms for a contract and return to the voters for approval or begin the entire negotiation process again. In this instance, both the town and the police union feel the arbitration award remains consistent with the town’s fiscally responsible approach to town finances and also provides reasonable compensation to the police union employees

Essentially the Award provides for a yearly increase of 3.5 percent over the three year period. There are other parts of the contract, but the basic financial impact is 3.5 percent per year. The town’s other unions were given a 3.5 percent increase in each year of their respective contracts during this very same time.

The economic times have certainly changed since July 2007, or what should have been the beginning of this contract. The financial times we are in now will be addressed in the new contract.

Since the $125,000 figure will fund the financial obligations of the past three years, if we do not fund the additional $100,000, we will be unable to continue to pay our department at the resulting level of the contract beyond June 2010. Lack of adequate funding could potentially give rise to layoffs and/or no summer assistance and result in less coverage. The award is fair, reasonable, and necessary to move forward with our police department. These are the men and women that protect our town and keep our children safe. We urge the voters of the town to attend the special town meeting on June 29, 2010, at 7pm, and approve this award.