GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 29, 2013

City, police unions cut new contract deals

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — The city and its two police unions, one for patrolmen, the other for supervisors, have ratified new three-year contracts that provide 2 percent annual cost-of-living salary increases as well as a variety of stipends, but the contracts also contain counterweights favoring taxpayers — including reduced sick leave and sick leave buyback and elimination of the obligation of the city to pay retiring officers for unfulfilled shift swaps.

Chief Leonard Campanello said Thursday that the net increase in the cost of the new contracts was not yet calculated or clear, nor would it be until the budgeting process for the fiscal 2014 budget, which begins July 1. The settlement of the contracts — for the superior officers, that is lieutenants and sergeants in one pack, and the patrolmen in another — were the first in the latest round of municipal union agreements.

The city Thursday declined to release the ratified contracts, which have been approved by both sides, instead substituting a memo from Campanello to Mayor Carolyn Kirk. In addition, the chief briefed the Times on the terms in the memo via a telephone interview Thursday. The ratification by the city leaves the City Council with the indirect power to appropriate funding.

“I have no hard numbers” on the fiscal impact, Campanello said, but he added that the contracts met the goal of providing a “level services budget for 2013.” Efforts to reach Lt. Joseph Fitzgerald, president of the officers’ union, and Detective Jeremiah Nicastro, president of the patrolmen’s union, were unsuccessful Thursday.

“Both sides benefited and showed mutual respect. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome,” Campanello said, adding that the contracts were resolved in six sessions over 31 days beginning at the end of January.

The rapid settlement of the contracts came during the first year of the department’s leadership by a chief selected from outside the force and following the elimination of the old system under the rules of Civil Service.

The contracts include Sunset Clause language eliminating the so-called “Quinn” bill education benefits for new hires after July 1, 2013. The term refers to percentage pay increases — 10 for an associate degree recipients, 20 percent for a bachelor’s degree and 25 percent for a master’s degree. In place of the Quinn bumps, the new contracts provide $2,000 raises for associate degree recipients, $3,000 for a master’s degree and $5,000 for the earning of a master’s degree.

There are 12 superior officers, split evenly between lieutenants and sergeants, and 46 patrolmen.

Kirk hailed the contract settlements.

“Chief Campanello laid fresh eyes on both police contracts, and with the support of the administration, and cooperative effort of the unions have reached a mutually agreeable and reasonable contract settlement,” the mayor said. “The sunset clause on the Quinn bill represents a tremendous long-term savings on pension liability.

“Reductions in leave benefits will save overtime dollars, and removing language which bases promotions solely on seniority ensures that the most qualified officers are placed in specialty positions such as detectives. In return, the employees are being fairly compensated,” Kirk said in an email.

The chief said the benefit changes would save the city’s taxpayers “hundreds of thousands of dollars in the next 15 years or so.” The contract also eliminates the right to overtime for taking classes to qualify as an emergency medical technician.

The superior officers contract reduced the sick day allotment from 18 to 12; the patrolmen’s contract reduced the sick days from 18 to 15.

Sick day buybacks (the arrangement by which the city is obligated to pay for unused sick leave at resignation) were also pared for officers and patrolmen. The officers’ gave up 55 days and now have a right to accumulate 65 days that the city must pay for at separation; the patrolmen’s buyback limit was reduced from 180 to 70 days.

The unions’ surrender of the shift substitution compensation right, while little known to the general public, has been a lightning rod issue within police union and municipal personnel circles. Under the old contract, as it is in many municipalities, colleagues often swap shifts, with one working a shift for another in exchange for the other to do vice versa.

But over time, the swapping can become unequal, and at retirement if a union member has worked extra shifts in an unequal net trade, the city was on the hook to pay for the extra shifts. That is no longer in the new contract.

“Language which precludes the city from paying any compensation to a member of a union due to shift substitution (swaps) and demands payment from a member if the city is owed upon separation of employment,” the chief’s memo to the mayor explained.

The contracts also eliminated “all benefits and language associated with EMT certification, allowing a significant amount of funding to be placed back into the training budget, offsetting — but not eliminating — requests for training funding in the FY2014 budget (that will take effect on July 1, 2013), and taken together were estimated to result in $110,000 in funding that can be re-allocated to training in year two of the contract.”

The patrolmen’s contract also gives the chief “sole discretion on assignment to staffing of shifts,” Campanello’s memo to the mayor said.

Campanello also wrote that the contract “agreed to eliminate entirely the city’s obligation to pay for student officers equipment or training. The city will now pay upfront cost of academy and equipment and will be reimbursed at the rate of $50 per pay period until paid off or, if the employee leaves city employment, payment becomes immediately due.”

Campanello estimated this give-back would save over $5,000 for each new police officer.

The three consecutive 2 percent salary increases — together with a 1 percent stipend for emergency medical dispatch training — compares to the 1.5 percent retroactive raise and two years of 2 percent raises plus a 1 percent raise in the third year the officers received under the old contract.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.