City Not Allowed To Change Past Practice On Court Appearances

For 20 years, police officers working for the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts Police Department who were involved in arrests automatically appeared in court as “complaining witnesses” in clerk magistrate hearings. To save overtime expense, the City transferred the duties to police prosecutors, who were already at the courthouse. The result was a significant drop in overtime earned by patrol officers.

The Lawrence Patrolmen’s Association challenged the City’s decision in the arbitration process. An arbitrator sided with the Association, and ordered the City to restore the previous practice.

The Arbitrator found that since the practice impacted compensation, it was a mandatory subject for bargaining and was protected by the past practices clause in the collective bargaining agreement. The Arbitrator cited the fact that the City had had many opportunities to change the practice through raising the issue in bargaining, but had never done so. In the absence of an agreement with the Association, the Arbitrator concluded, the practice of using patrol officers for the work would have to be continued until changed through the bargaining process.

In addition to ordering the restoration of the past practice, the Arbitrator ordered the City to make whole any patrol officers negatively impacted by the change.

City of Lawrence, LAIG 6520 (O’Brien, 2006).

This article appears in the December 2007 issue