HAMPTON, NH – More than 30 prospective candidates looking to join the part-time ranks of the Hampton Police Department walked away Saturday from taking a test they must pass before being hired. Their decision came after encountering a rally staged by current police officers who have been working without a raise for almost six years.
Passing out fliers stating “Say no … to employment with this agency,” officers told the recruits they couldn’t support any new hiring until they have new contract with the town.
The police union has been working without contract since 2006, and its members said town leaders don’t seem to care.
“We are just letting them know what’s going on and why we feel they shouldn’t take the test,” said Joe Jones, president of the Hampton Police Association. “But if they want to take the test, we are not stopping them.”
Jones said those who didn’t take the test made their own choice. One person left and returned with coffee and doughnuts to join the union demonstration.
According to the union, the decision to host the rally during the testing came after the town’s negotiation team ignored the association’s request three weeks ago to return to the negotiation table.
Joe McKittrick, attorney for the association, said the town has since agreed to meet with the union on Wednesday.
“They heard what we were doing and requested that we do not hold the rally,” McKittrick said. “The impression that I got is had we not had this rally, we still wouldn’t have had a meeting scheduled.”
Jones said officers are extremely frustrated, especially since the last successful negotiated contract with the town was in 2003.
“We feel if they really want a negotiated contract, they would be a little more fair and we would get done,” Jones said.
Jones said he can’t sit and watch as good officers leave the department to work elsewhere to make more money.
Roughly 10 officers have been stuck at the entry level pay of $18.20 an hour, making about $37,000 a year, since the association’s contract expired, according to the union.
According to the U.S. Social Security office, cost of living has increased 15.5 percent since officers’ last raise in 2005, including gas prices rising 60 percent in that span.
“What’s frustrating is that I’m the guy who keeps saying, ‘This is a great town to work for and don’t worry we will get a contract,’” Jones said. “But every year we hit a roadblock.”
McKittrick said he doesn’t believes the rally will hurt the department.
The department has had problems in the past retaining part-time officers. While the department is allowed to have up to 70 part-timers during the summer, it only had 40 this past summer.
“Are we hurting the department? I don’t think so,” said McKittrick, who noted what’s really hurting the department is a lack of a contract. “If we let it go the way it’s been going, the town is not going to change at all, and it’s going to get worse.”
McKittrick said the union has made numerous concessions, including agreeing to change the contribution in what employees pay for health care.
“But they just want more and more,” McKittrick said.
Jim Tuttle, a part-time officer with the department since 2002, said he has been stuck at $13.83 per hour for the last five years.
New part-timers make $13.16.
“It’s frustrating,” Tuttle said. “I could make money doing something else, but I love the job.”
Tuttle said the lack of a contract is the reason why the part-time force has dwindled over the years. When he first joined in 2002, he was number 60 of 74 part-time officers on seniority list. Now he’s 20 out of 40.
“We had good times and bad times, but we always came to an agreement,” said Tuttle, who before joining the part-time force was a full time Hampton police officer. “It’s never been like this.”
“I just hope they (the town) sit down and talk and come to a compromise with us.”
Public Works employees and firefighters came out to support the police union because they are in the same boat. They, too, have been working without a contract for almost six years.
“This is not a police problem, it’s a town problem,” said Public Works employee John Burke.
Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols, one of the town’s negotiators with the union, would not comment on contract talks or the rally held by the union.
“I don’t think it’s productive to negotiate through the media,” he said. “We have a meeting with the union on Wednesday, and that is the place to do it.”
Hampton Police Chief Jamie Sullivan said they had close to 90 prospective officers that signed up to take the test. Of that, only 32 actually took the test.
“How many turned around because of the rally, I do not know but clearly there was a number that did,” Sullivan said.