NEW BEDFORD, MA — Mayor Jon Mitchell wants the matter of removing police captains from the bargaining unit with their rank-and-file officersto be on the table during the union’s contract arbitration, according to a letter he sent to the management chair of the Joint Labor-Management Committee (JLMC) on June 22.
According to Mitchell, having captains in the same bargaining unit as officers who are subject to their command undermines the department’s “essentially paramilitary character and diminishes effective oversight” and “poses an obvious conflict of interest that impedes police discipline.”
A bargaining unit is the group of employees for whom a labor union negotiates a collective bargaining agreement, according to Merriam-Webster’s legal dictionary.
According to the city’s Public Information Officer Jonathan Carvalho, the mayor is not proposing that captains be removed from the union, but rather that they be removed from the bargaining unit they are in and moved to a separate bargaining unit.
Police union President Hank Turgeon said that during the contract negotiations, he has understood removing captains from the bargaining unit to mean removing them from the union altogether and that creating a separate bargaining unit for captains has not been discussed.
According to Turgeon, the captains have done everything the chief has asked of them, including disciplining officers, and have had no complaints against them , so he questioned why it was necessary to remove them from the union.
The union has been working without a contract since July 2018, and the contract is now going to arbitration with the Department of Labor’s JLMC, meaning a neutral arbitrator will have the power to make decisions to end the contract dispute.
According to the department’s website, the JLMC assists in resolving collective bargaining disputes involving municipalities and their police officers and firefighters.
Turgeon said Monday that one of the reasons the union wasn’t able to come to an agreement with the city was because the city is calling for captains to be removed from the union.
Turgeon said the captains don’t want to lose their union benefits or the family that the union creates.
A hearing was scheduled for June 30 to discuss which issues would be discussed in arbitration and, according to the mayor’s letter, the JLMC chairman signaled that he would not allow the city to include the question of whether police captains should be removed from the same collective bargaining unit as the officers they supervise.
In the letter the mayor asked for the hearing to be postponed to review statute and legislative history and ensure the city is able to bring the issue to arbitration.
The hearing did take place on June 30, but was continued until July 15, according to Turgeon, due to the confusion that the union’s attorney said was raised by the letter.
Mitchell in his letter outlined his argument for why the captain issue should be included in arbitration.
He wrote that removing captains from the collective bargaining unit has never been more important than it is now, with the added demand on first responders from the pandemic and the national discussion about proper oversight of police officers.
Both issues make a clearly delineated structure which separates the captains from their officers that much more essential, according to Mitchell.
In response to Mitchell calling attention to the pandemic and protests in the letter, Turgeon said the issue with captains has been on the bargaining table since the beginning of negotiations, long before either the pandemic or oversight of officers issues came to light.
“He couldn’t give us a good explanation back then and he still can’t today,” Turgeon said, also saying that chief has had nothing but praise for the captains during the pandemic and the protests.
Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro did not respond to The Standard-Times’ request for comment before deadline.
In the letter, Mitchell also argued that in the six bargaining sessions the union and city had before the JLMC’s involvement, the parties negotiated about the captain issue at all but one, but now the city finds itself in a position where the chairman appears to be hesitant about permitting the city to go forward with arbitration on the issue despite it being repeatedly negotiated.
Mitchell then cited two occasions where he says the Legislature expressly vested the JLMC with jurisdiction over removal of job titles from a collective bargaining agreement where those titles perform managerial functions.
Mitchell’s letter was sent to Jill Goldsmith, the management chair for the JLMC, and Turgeon said the union had no problem with the letter being sent to her because the mayor is well within his rights to argue his case to someone who is representative of the mayor’s side of the JLMC process. The union has a separate chair person on its side.
The union did, however, have a problem with who the mayor copied on the letter, according to Turgeon.
Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, a state senator, state representatives, and City Council President Joseph Lopes, were all copied on the letter, among others.
Turgeon said including politicians in the process turned something that was supposed to be unbiased into a political fight.
“Why would you need to cc them about a decision that hasn’t been made yet, other than to try and influence the decision of the Chairman?,” Turgeon questioned.
According to the city’s Public Information Officer Jonathan Carvalho, the letter relates to a state level committee and thus the relevant state officials are copied in the letter.
Mitchell closed the letter by stating that the chairman’s apparent reluctance to allow the committee to exercise its authority over a matter that the parties have already included in negotiations and that played a key role in the impasse between the two “makes no sense” and “fundamentally undermines the public perception of the JLMC process, which is supposed to be a fair and effective method for resolving those important negotiation subjects that the parties could not resolve on their own.”
Turgeon said copying the governor on the letter was essentially telling Chairman John Hanson’s boss about a decision Hanson had not made yet.
From South Coast Today