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Briefings: For Cop Contract, Final Arbiter May be Council…

UPDATED 3/3/14 6:03PM: To reflect additional reporting on alleged efforts by the mayor’s office to defeat the arbitration award.

In their hands, now.(WMassP&I)

In their hands, now.(WMassP&I)

Not even a week after its release, the finding of the Joint Labor Management Committee award will go before the City Council where its fate may be determined.  The Council may refer it to committee, but pressure will undoubtedly be on for expeditious passage or rejection.

Under Massachusetts public employee collective bargaining law, labor pacts or arbitration awards must be approved by the legislative body if any financial obligation is attached to it.

Mayor Domenic Sarno is obligated to forward the award to the City Council under state law, but mayoral requests that a Council reject an arbitration award are not unprecedented in Massachusetts.  Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino did just that as recently as last year.  Sarno said in his statement he is ready to implement the award if approved.

Sources now say that Sarno has been lobbying Councilors to reject the proposal over the cameras issue.  However, the context comes as the Council is also considering the reinstatement of a Police Commission, backed by the Police Union and many community and minority groups.  A review of city press releases show no trumpeting of cruiser cameras or patrolmen body mics until the Police Commission debate began.  Dividing and conquering the political opponents in the city has been a winning recipe for the Sarno administration before.

The contract the city had with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 364 expired in 2012.  After prolonged negotiations the parties turned to arbitration resulting in Tuesday’s award.  On balance, it the award largely favors the union.  Aside from Quinn bill funding, the direct budgetary cost of the city does not appear terribly unfair.  However, numerous administrative and work changes were fully or largely rejected by the arbitration panel.  Were contract negotiations to reopen, there is no guarantee negotiations or another arbitration panel would make cameras or mics would the latest police accessories anytime soon if at all.

Springfield Police Patch (via

The contract is technically in two parts.  Contracts follow the July-June fiscal year of the city and the first part runs from the last contract’s expiration on July 1,, 2012 to June 30, 2013 (FY2013).  The other part runs from FY2014 through FY2016.  Municipal employee contracts cannot exceed three years in length under the commonwealth’s collective bargaining law.  The city had wanted only a two year contract, which would end this July.

The arbitrator’s award goes into detail as to its reasoning on each issue.  In a summary to Sarno Human Resources/Labor Relations head Bill Mahoney lists each issue and who won.  The union won on court time, assignments, swaps and the city’s payment of the state’s share of the Quinn bill.  The city prevailed in seeking drug testing opposing uniform reimbursement changes.  The city will be able to randomly test patrolmen within 60 days of the agreement’s enactment similar to the firefighters’ contract.

On wages, the panel appeared to simply play Solomon.  The cops will receive no raise for FY2013, but will receive 2% raises in the other three years of the award.  The city won a right to assign certain injured officers to light duty, but the panel ordered an additional 1.5% pay hike starting July 1, 2014 (FY2015).  The firefighter contract had the same provision, but with no pay bonus.

The financial reasoning of the panel, especially on Quinn bill funding, rested heavily on the ability of neighboring communities to pay similar awards.  While acknowledging the city’s historical financial challenges, comparisons to Springfield’s peer cities in terms of tax base or population size were spare.  That said, if approved by the Council, it would end for now a chapter in the city’s funding of the state’s share of the Quinn bill, which has been the subject of confusion for a few years.

A final item on which the union won was a rejection by the panel of adding video cameras to cruisers and recording devices on officers themselves.  The panel suggested that a study be ordered for now and then leave the issue for the next round of negotiations.

With Sarno’s apparent resign to the agreement and no word of financial worries from city bean counters, the award will likely not leave the city with one foot in default and the other on a banana peel.  Yet, opposition to the award has already surfaced.  Community groups, led by the NAACP’s Rev. Talbert Swan II have called for the Council to reject the award.  In a letter to Joseph Gentile, IBPO 364’s President, Swan says he was “saddened” to hear of the pushback against the placement of recording devices in cruisers and on uniforms.

Swan said it should be supported by police as “impartial.”  It could “protect both the public from police misconduct and the police from false accusations,” Swan said.  Swan also noted cooperation among the police union and community groups like the Springfield NAACP on reviving the Police Commission.

Sarno, too, said in his statement announcing the award he was “disheartened” by the refusal to install recording devices, “[g]iven the recent debate about accountability.”

Gentile, for his part, said in a statement obtained by WGGB, “The city never made a specific proposal or addressed the unions concerns regarding cruiser cameras during bargaining.”

However, another sleeper issue could be lingering in the contract.  The City was ordered by the arbitrator to slim down the matters that were in dispute.  According to City Hall sources, among those was the city’s residency ordinance, which the city, that is the mayor as the city’s bargaining agent, decided to drop before arbitration.  The patrolmen, like most unionized city employees, have negotiated an exemption from the city’s residency ordinance.  Under the commonwealth’s collective bargaining statute, municipal employment laws can be the subject of collective bargaining.

Although Springfield’s residency ordinance is somewhat weak and toothless in light of alterations made by the Control Board, it has and remains a potent issue on the Council.  Councilors have long promised that they would reject a contract that does not address the issue, if even only prospectively.