Arbitration Panel Rules That Boston Police Patrolmen Deserve 25.4 Percent Raise

BOSTON, MA &#8211 An arbitration panel ruled Friday evening that Boston police patrolmen deserve a 25.4 percent raise over six years, an amount more than double the increase of other city unions, according to Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration.

The award calls for 13.5 percent in raises and includes additional money for longevity benefits, bonuses for officers with college degrees, and other perks that bring the total increase to more than 25 percent. The package will cost taxpayers $80 million over six years.

In an interview, Menino warned that the contract would set an unsustainable precedent and doom future contract talks.

“The award is too expensive,” Menino said. “It continues a pattern of awards that are too expensive. Public safety unions have no reason to negotiate with us in good faith and settle contracts voluntarily because arbitrators have proven that they will always give them more.”

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association did not return phone messages left with its attorney, Susan F. Horwitz, or the union’s president, Thomas J. Nee.

When both sides agreed to arbitration, they stood far apart, according to the Menino administration. The city’s offer at the start of arbitration was 15.2 percent over six years. The union wanted 21.5 percent over three years, according to the city.

Funding for the $80 million award must still be approved by the City Council. If the council rejects the award, both parties would return to the bargaining table.

“The only solution is for the City Council to vote this down and break this cycle,” Menino said. “Other cities and towns have said no and returned these awards back to the table. It’s the only way to protect the city from these awards and [break] this irresponsible pattern.”

City Council President Stephen J. Murphy could not be immediately reached Friday night for comment. The timing of the arbitrator’s decision could make the contract a thorny issue ahead of the Nov. 5 election, when Boston will choose 13 city councilors and elect its first new mayor in 20 years.

One mayoral candidate, state Representative Martin J. Walsh, released a statement saying he would endeavor as mayor never to resort to arbitration. “When I am mayor and we sit down to negotiate, there will be a mutual respect,” said Walsh, a labor leader who has overwhelming union support.

Walsh did not respond when asked whether he agreed with Menino.

The other mayoral candidate, City Councilor John R. Connolly, said in a statement that he would decide whether to vote for the contract after reading the arbitrator’s decision and meeting with the city’s chief financial officer and the union.

“This is about our city’s fiscal health,” Connolly said. “This is also about our hard-working police officers who have gone years without a raise.”

The arbitration decision has implications far beyond the patrolmen’s union, which has more than 1,460 members and is the largest of the city’s four police unions. The contracts for patrolmen have historically set a wage pattern for superior officers, detectives, and others.

“The principal argument made by the police union was that it wanted to achieve ‘parity’ with firefighters,” John Dunlap, the city’s labor relations chief, wrote in a dissent included with the arbitration decision. But Dunlap noted that before the raises in the arbitration award “police and firefighter total compensation and total working hours were virtually identical.”

According to data provided by the city, police and firefighters earn on average just under $110,000 a year when overtime and detail pay is included. Median household income in Boston is $51,739, according to the US Census.

However, an average firefighter’s base pay is almost $15,000 more than a patrolman, according to the city. The disparity can be traced, in part, back to 2001 and 2002, when firefighters saw their pay increase by 8.5 percent.

Those two years, police went without raises. In exchange, the city adopted the Quinn Bill, a state program that boosted the salaries of officers who further their education. The cost of the bonus program was split between the city and state.

In 2009, the state eliminated nearly all of its funding for the Quinn Bill to help close a budget gap, and many police officers saw their salaries fall. Boston continued to pay its share of the program, but refused to cover the state’s half. The decision from the arbitration panel would have the city take over some of the state’s payments.

The patrolmen’s contract expired in 2010. After 24 negotiating sessions, both parties asked that the dispute go to arbitration before a three-member panel. It included Dunlap, who was appointed by the city; Horwitz, who represented patrolmen; and a neutral arbiter, Timothy J. Buckalew.

City officials agreed to arbitration because they said it would have cost even more to settle at the bargaining table because they said patrolmen were asking for more than a 25 percent increase in pay.

“We understand how much money we can afford, and the unions are trying to demand more and more,” Menino said. “We went up a little bit from our original offer, but they wanted much more.”

The city initially offered a 12 percent raise over six years. It was the same pay increase accepted by 30 of Boston’s employee unions, including the Boston Teachers Union, the city’s largest bargaining group with 7,700 members.

According to the city, it increased its offer to 15.2 percent to make up for some of the money officers lost when the state cut the Quinn Bill. It was rejected. The city said its offer went as high as 19.8 percent.

“They were looking for 30 to 33 percent increases,” Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said. “We were very far apart. Never was there a time that the city could have settled this contract for less than 30 percent.”

Buckalew and the representative for the patrolmen signed the arbitration award. Dunlap refused, but it only required two signatures to become official.

“I believe the award is unfair,” Dunlap wrote in his dissent, “to Boston’s taxpayers and to the vast majority of the City of Boston’s hard-working, lower-paid union employees who voluntarily settled for less than half of what this panel has awarded to police.”

From The Boston Globe

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