, Gloucester, MA

April 2, 2013

Editorial: Police contracts, cooperation bode well for city

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — There may still be some questions remaining from negotiations that have yielded ratified agreements between City Hall negotiators and union leaders from Gloucester’s two police unions.

And the idea of essentially giving the full slate of patrolmen and superior officers built-in raises of 6 percent — 2 percent for each of the three years included of the pact — may rub some taxpayers the wrong way, especially those thousands who work in the private sector and may not have gotten any raises, if they still have jobs, in some time.

But the agreed-upon contracts include some important benefit give-backs by the unions. And even better, it’s good to hear both first-year chief Leonard Campanello – who’s not part of any union – and the union leaders both praise the cooperative nature of the talks that should also spill over to other contract talks as well. For these deals signal a commitment to truly do what’s best for the city and its residents, who of course have to foot the bill and, in increasing numbers are struggling to do so.

The twin police contracts should generate long-term city savings, according to the chief and Mayor Carolyn Kirk, through curbs in spending on salary bumps for higher education degrees through the so-called Quinn Bill, with that clause eliminated for officers hired after July 1 — at the start of the new contract and the dawn of the new fiscal year. The Quinn bill — code for the Police Career Incentive Pay Program — had been around since 1970 to compensate police officers for continuing their education in related subjects, and today raises base pay by 10 percent for an associate degree, 20 percent for a bachelor’s degree and 25 percent for a master’s degree. But the state had stopped paying its portion of the Quinn pay hikes in fiscal 2012, which ended last June 30, with cities and towns having to pick up the rest.

The new contract also saves the city money with changes that reduce the number of unused sick days accumulated by police officers at the time they leave the force. The number of sick days allowed in a year were also reduced for both the superior officers and patrolmen’s unions’ members. There are 12 supervisors in the superior officers bargaining unit, and 46 Gloucester patrolmen.

Finally, the contract proactively addresses a potential labor scam that thankfully never got to Gloucester. That’s one, backed by a court ruling, that found the city liable for paying back officers for any unrequited “shift swaps” in which one officer never worked another officer’s shift as promised and planned. The new Gloucester deal essentially precludes officers from collecting any such compensation.

All of those agreements, of course, are important. But equally important were the comments coming from Lt. Det. Joseph Fitzgerald, who heads the Superior Officers Union, and Officer Ronald Piscatello, who serves as vice president of the Patrolmen’s Union — each of whom said he believes the good will underpinning the recent talks bodes for an era of cooperation and trust between management and labor in a department that had not always been present in the past.

In this case, both sides seemed committed to carving out a deal that’s best for the city. And it would frankly be nice if the firefighters’ and teachers’ unions adopted that commitment as well. That means that firefighters union officials must finally be prepared to at least open the door to perhaps a department reserve corps — similar to the Police Department’s – that could boost the roster for staffing Bay View, West Gloucester and Magnolia stations.

It should mean working with Fire Chief Eric Smith to perhaps reduce the per-unit mandates from four firefighters to three, again freeing up more firefighters to man more positions. Or it could mean any other options that could cover the outlying stations without relying so heavily in overtime, which de-stabilizes the department’s and city’s budget on an almost monthly basis.

There’s no doubt some issues may well service in the police contracts, once those fill documents are available. But by all counts, the city’s taxpayers at least came under consideration this time around.

Let’s hope that these police talks and pacts prove models for other city negotiators and union leaders to follow.