By Alana Melanson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated: 03/26/2019 06:36:03 AM EDT
CHELMSFORD — Upset at the how the town handled the police sergeants’ contract — and the subsequent rejection of the arbitration award by Town Meeting — the union has filed a prohibited practice complaint with the state Department of Labor Relations.
According to the complaint, filed Friday, the union alleges the town “in bad faith and in violation of its obligations” under state law “failed to follow its usual procedures when presenting the Police Sergeant’s Award for funding and, as a result, the funding article was defeated at Town Meeting.”
At the Feb. 4 Special Town Meeting, precinct representatives voted 26-89, with five abstentions, against an article that sought $108,351 from the stabilization fund to cover the retroactive costs of the 2-1 arbitration decision on the sergeants’ July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019 contract. That vote effectively sent the contract back to arbitration.
Among the charges the union alleges:
The town did not provide the Finance Committee the usual seven days to consider an article in advance of Town Meeting. Instead, it was provided the day of the Special Town Meeting and Finance Committee met 20 minutes beforehand to discuss it. (According to the town, the arbitration panel had promised to provide the award to the town weeks earlier, but did not until the afternoon of the Special Town Meeting.)
Town Manager Paul Cohen sent the documents to the Finance Committee in an email stating that he and the Board of Selectmen were required under law to support the award, but that the committee had “no such constraint.
“Cohen “only spoke briefly about the specifics of the (Joint Labor-Management Committee) award, and expressed several times to the Town Meeting that he was ‘required by law to support it.'”
As a result, the Finance Committee was “highly critical” of the award, and read aloud and distributed copies of the dissenting opinion from the arbitration panel, “while ignoring completely the actual 23-page award.”
“In the face of such criticism, the Board of Selectmen remained silent, and the town manager offered no support, other than to reiterate that he was legally required to support the award,” the complaint states.
Prior to filing the complaint, union President Sgt. Frank Goode sent a long letter to Town Meeting reps expressing his frustration with how the award — the result of years of mediation and arbitration — was presented and rejected.
In the March 9 letter, Goode said he was not present for the vote because he was under the impression it would be postponed given how late the award was received and that it was larger than budgeted.
“Why was the union led to believe there would be no vote?” Goode wrote. “Why were you not provided with the full arbitration decision authored by the only neutral arbitrator on the panel? I leave it to each of you to fill in those blanks.”
The sergeants’ union has been working on an expired contract since July 2016, “without the cost of living and other compensation increases that were given to many other employees in town,” Goode wrote.
At the Special Town Meeting, Finance Committee members expressed concern that the arbitration panel was not unanimous on the decision, which would have awarded the sergeants a 9 percent base wage increase.
The management advocate who wrote the dissenting opinion, Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, was on board with the 2 percent increases at the start of each fiscal year of the contract awarded by neutral arbitrator Beth Anne Wolfson and police advocate Alan Andrews, but disagreed with the additional 1.5 percent increases on Jan. 1 and June 30 of the final year. In his dissent, Flanagan said this would not provide parity sought with the firefighters’ union — which previously received a more than 7 percent increase — but put the sergeants further ahead and set the town up for future contract battles with its public-safety unions.
“This arbitration award is far from a windfall for the Superior Officers’ Union — it was a fair and equitable award, using state mandated comparisons and guidelines defined by the JLMC,” Goode wrote in his letter. “It was right in line with the patrolman’s award that was approved earlier.”
Goode also blasted the 14 percent salary increase selectmen awarded Cohen in July, without naming him as the recipient.
Cohen said it is true that town administration and the Board of Selectmen were required under law to support the arbitration award, but the Finance Committee and Town Meeting were not. He said the message he sent to the Finance Committee was meant to be informative, not directive, for newer members who might not be familiar with JLMC requirements.
The Finance Committee is an independent body that is free to offer its opinions to Town Meeting and distribute what it sees fit, Cohen said. He said full, multi-page arbitration decisions have not been distributed to Town Meeting in the past, and that he followed the established practice of summarizing the award in his presentation.
Cohen said all employee compensation in town, including his own salary, reflects the conditions of the market based on comparable communities.
He said it is within the union’s rights to file a complaint, but he would rather see the sergeants come back to the bargaining table to try to settle a contract for six years — the previous three that were in arbitration, and the next three.
“I believe over a six-year period, all parties can reach a mutually acceptable resolution that would be supported by the town, including the elected representatives who fund the contract at Town Meeting,” Cohen said.Share