Arbitration Award Could Cost City $23 Million This Year

By Seth Daniel

A recent state arbitration decision with the Boston Police’s Detectives Benevolent Society could cost the City $23 million this year in back pay – and another $9 million per year going forward – and now is in front of a frustrated City Council committee.

In late December, Arbitrator Lawrence Holden Jr. of the state’s Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC) issued a decision in a long-standing contract dispute with the police detectives – one of several disputes resolved over the last few years in arbitration – that agreed almost entirely with the union and awarded them a 28.6 percent pay increase over six years. That represents an even greater increase than the Patrolmen’s Union (BPPA) received in arbitration in 2013, and also quite a payout for the City to shoulder this year.

Mayor Martin Walsh’s office said the award is much larger compared to other union payouts and has been recently submitted to the City Council for review.

“This award is worth approximately 29 percent, compared to 25 percent for other police unions, 19 percent for fire and 12.6 percent for civilian unions,” said Laura Oggeri of the Mayor’s Office. “An award of this size would result in a pay out of approximately $23 million this year and an annual increase of nearly $9 million going forward.”

The decision did reject the request for back pay going all the way back to 2010, but awarded the back pay for about half of that time.

That large increase now sits for upcoming deliberation in the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee.

Vice Chair Sal LaMattina, who represents Charlestown and Eastie, said his committee will schedule a public hearing on the recent award and he has made no decision about it just yet.

However, he said the penchant for unions heading to arbitration, where they have found better deals routinely, is growing old for him and for taxpayers.

“I’m really frustrated it goes to arbitration and they win and then it comes to the City Council and we have to vote on it,” LaMattina said. “It’s like they (police, fire and teachers) go to arbitration and get a pay raise. I’m really upset at how we dole out pay raises. I think police, fire and teachers should be in line with others. There are other employees that get 1 percent or 2 percent or 3 percent. It’s not right and we really need to look at how we give increases and it should be across the board. When the City is in good times, people get a pay raise. In bad time, you don’t get that kind of pay raise…That’s where I have my concerns. They all say, ‘Why negotiate? We’ll go to arbitration.’ Every time they go to arbitration, it comes back larger than the others. I feel bad for the taxpayers.”

That said, LaMattina indicated he hasn’t made a specific decision on the award given to the Detectives in December. He said he’s keeping an open mind, but remains frustrated by contract negotiations over the last few years.

“I have not made up my mind, and we’ll schedule a hearing on this soon,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Detectives Benevolent Society spoke with the newspaper, but did not return a call for comment on the matter. The newspaper tried several times to reach the union for comment without success.

The decision by the JLMC was based mostly on the award given to the BPPA in arbitration back in 2013, which represented a 25 percent increase over a similar span of time. The Detectives have been without a contract since 2010, and the award carried them through June 2016. With the resolution in their favor, the Detectives were able to collect back pay and overtime pay at the higher pay rate awarded by the arbitrator.

That represented some $23 million in back pay that has to be paid to the Detectives, if approved by the Council – which likely has little room for disputing the award legally.

The Detectives argued that they deserved exactly what the BPPA got, including a $2,000 increase at strip base pay. However, the City argued that if the Detectives received that pay, they would exceed the deal given to the BPPA – likely creating a chainsaw effect with other unions coming back to re-negotiate.

The arbitrator disagreed, saying the Detectives deserved more pay as they are a different demographic and have different skills. Patrolmen can only reach detective after three years in uniform patrol and after taking and passing a detective’s exam.

“This type of difference is likely explained not because the Detectives received better financial improvements than the Patrolmen, but because of demographic differences, such as educational attainments and years of service, between the two bargaining units,” read the decision from the JLMC. “The City expresses concern that if the Detectives receive a greater overall percentage increase according to its costing methodology than the Patrolmen or other police units, then the other police units (and/or other City bargaining units as well) will subsequently return to the bargaining table seeking the additional percentage increment creating a type of whipsaw effect. I point out that when a negotiator or arbitrator understands that two police units received the same economic elements but that the overall percentage increase between the same units, as calculated by the City, varied somewhat due to demographic differences between the two units…and any claim for adjustment ought to be summarily dismissed.”

The decision also awarded an increase in Quinn Bill pay adjustments similar to what the BPPA received.

The only victory for the City came in the fact that the arbitrator did not rule in anyone’s favor in regard to the City’s desire to outfit police and detective vehicles with GPS monitoring systems. That, he said, could be worked out between the two.

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