By Seth Daniel
The Boston City Council voted unanimously last week to approve an arbitration award for a 29 percent pay increase over six years for the Boston Police’s Benvolent Society of Detectives Benevolent Society.
Councillors did not choose to reject the measure, which was suggested by the Boston Municipal Research Bureau – as reported by the Boston Globe, but instead chose to draft a strongly-worded letter that they hope will create a new pathway in the future.
Mayor Martin Walsh’s office indicated in a previous article for the Sun that the backpay costs this year alone for the award would be $23 million, and that it would also mean $9 million increases going forward – and that’s just for that union. A similarly lucrative contract – though a bit less lucrative – was approved after an arbitration fight for the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Union (BPPA) in 2013.
“We believe that the trend of escalating public safety salary increases threatens the long-term financial stability of the City of Boston,” read the letter from the Council, signed by all members and authored by Council President Michelle Wu and Councilor Mark Ciommo.
“Our vote for the award acknowledges the need for consistency between the Detectives’ compensation and the contract that the Patrolmen received more than two years ago, but it should not obscure our concern that this level of pay increase is not sustainable for the City’s finances and our expectation for different outcomes in the next round of contract negotiations.”
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 28.7 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 the administration opposed it on those grounds during arbitration.
In its letter, the Council also voiced frustration of its prohibition in the City Charter from getting involved in negotiations with unions, but its frequent inheritance of lucrative arbitration agreements that land on their laps.
Had the Council voted down the award, it would have meant that both sides would have had to go back to the bargaining table within the arbitration process.
“Too often in the past, the Council has inherited an arbitration award that represents the culmination of months or years of collective bargaining negotiations followed by a lengthy interest arbitration through the JLMC, and over the course of only a few weeks, the Council must assess the fiscal probity of these arbitration awards, while simultaneously obtaining on the fly a basic understanding of the months or years of history that led to the award,” read the letter. “This unwieldy squeeze is not only inefficient and counterproductive, but it also shortchanges the interests of taxpayers, labor organizations, the administration, and the Council.”
The letter also voiced concern over the pay gap between public safety unions and civilian city employees.
The Council offered four points for the next round of negotiations, which will likely start this year.
Those points included the fact that the Council will expect negotiations to be across the table, and not done all the time in arbitration. In the future, the letter said, arbitration awards will be analyzed by an outside expert for the Council, who will be charged with analyzing all the history and making a recommendation.
Another point stressed that “runaway contracts” are widening the income inequality gap in the city – something that President Wu has pledged to address during her tenure.
“We believe that future contracts for all unions should be in one with the percentage increases recently received by our civilian unions, which trend more closely with inflationary and cost of living increases,” concluded the letter.
A similar letter was issued after the BPPA award in 2013.