For nearly three years, there have been shout downs at City Council meetings, immovable positions from the City, and even very public and embarrassing picket lines in the contentious negotiation process between the Chelsea Patrol Officers Union and the City.
But now, there is peace between the two – and perhaps a chance to rebuild some relationships that have become strained over a decade of prolonged contract disputes.
City leaders indicated that they have resolved seven of the eight municipal union contracts – with the eighth presumably on the way and one of the finished contracts being the Patrol Officers.
It was a contract some thought would never get completed, but now it is one everyone is glad to be finished with.
“It pretty much represents a cost of living increase for the employees,” said Union President Officer Felix Rivera. “The guys are just happy it’s done. The City started with zero percent increases and we started much higher. In the end, we ended up right in the middle at 2 percent. The members just wanted it done because at the end of the day, we’re not running a library or sitting at a Fire House or pulling trees from the streets. We’re doing public safety. When you have something like this dragging on for two or three years, it becomes a nuisance and gets in the way of day-to-day activities.”
City Manager Jay Ash said he believes that he has struck a fair deal with the police union (and all the other unions) that he can confidently produce to the taxpayers.
“We’ve had a tough time at the City level for years with state aid being cut all the time,” said Ash. “The burden of those cuts can’t fall solely on employees all the time. We want to make sure our employees are paid a fair wage. The difference of opinion between management and unions is what is fair. These agreements show we’re being fair to the unions and to the taxpayers.”
Ash said he wasn’t particularly bothered by the often-hostile tactics used by the Officers Union – mostly out of their frustration with the stalled talks – that once even attacked his own salary.
“Different unions have different ways of performing collective bargaining,” he said. “My job is not to get caught up in the noise and just make sure we’re being fair and responsible. I’m glad we’ve been able to get an agreement with them.”
However, Rivera said there is probably going to have to be some type of ‘beer at the White House summit’ type of discussion to help repair strained relationships. He noted that the last three years of contentious negotiations fell right after another prolonged battle from 2002 to 2005.
“It certainly is a learning experience for both of us,” he said. “Things could have been handled better between both sides. When a thing like this goes on so long it comes at a cost and I’m not talking about the money that will be paid in the contract. There will be a need to reconstruct relationships that were probably unnecessarily strained over the last three years.”
The details of the agreement are very positive, particularly because they stretch out for so many years and ensure that another impasse won’t occur for several years.
The contract is for six years, and is retroactive back to Fiscal Year 2011 – when the last contract expired. That first period of the six-year deal will finish up this year on July 1st. At that point, a new three-year phase will take effect and will not expire until July 1, 2016.
The sticking point in the negotiations was nearly always salaries.
In the end, the officers got a 2 percent raise in pay each year – with increases paid out now that will go back to Fiscal Year 2011.
One other minor change is that all the new employees coming in will receive some reduced benefits for educational incentive and sick/vacation time.
Most every other union is structured the same way, including the Library, the Superior Officers Union, 9-1-1 call takers, the DPW, Clerical workers and Inspectors at City Hall. The only union still out is the City Hall Management union, and it is expected to be resolved soon.
The only union that got a different contract was the Firefighters Union, whose contract also had some fireworks around it.
The contract could not be resolved locally, and so the union took it to state arbitration. At that level, the union prevailed in its case, and the contract was sent to the City Council for ratification.
However, a majority of City Councillors delayed that ratification and asked the union to sit back down and try to work out something a little better for the taxpayers.
In the end, the Fire Union got a four year contract with 2.5 percent raises each year.