Police Contract Negotiations Stuck at Wide Impasse

The officers of the Chelsea Police Department have been working without a contract for the past 20 months. In recent months, union representatives for the department, Officers Felix Rivera and Paul McCarthy, have been negotiating with Stephen Lisauska, the city’s contract negotiator.

“We have met 9 times with Mr. Lisauska but to no avail,” said Rivera, who is the department’s union president. “He has offered us nothing. In fact, he has offered us less than nothing,” he added.

City Manager Jay Ash disputes that point. He said he would not negotiate the union’s claims in public. However he said the city had made offers and that it continue to negotiate making offers that would pay police officers more than they make today.

All Chelsea police officers below the rank of sargent are members of the Chelsea Police Patrol Officers Association.

The CPPOA is seeking a cost of living raise, a return of educational incentives as well as restoring holiday pay which has been cut.

Ash said a cost of living raise is not unfair to ask for but he disputed the claim that the city has stopped paying for educational incentives.

“We are fully paying not only our share of educational incentives but the share the state has now withheld in order to balance its own budget. We remain committed to providing our officers with educational stipends,” he said.

Also, CPD officers have to pay a larger share of their health insurance premiums as a result of negotiations with the city’s other unions as a way of maintaining their health insurance benefits.

That was their choice, according to Rivera and McCarthy.

There was a cheaper option they did not want to accept, that’s the same option that covers hundreds of thousands of state and other municipal employees, including the governor.

Rivera and McCarthy said they are anxious to finalize a contract.

Chelsea police officers have not received a pay raise in over 2 years.

Rivera claims that his meetings with Lisauska have been futile. He and McCarthy, the CPPOA vice-president, are demanding one on one negotiations with City Manager Jay Ash.

Ash, however, has deferred all police salary and benefit negotiations to Lisauska.

“We’ve engaged a negotiator to help expedite the process. Labor negotiations typically drag on forever. It was my hope by bringing in a negotiator, we could get a contract,” Ash told the Record.

Rivera and McCarthy believe Chelsea has fallen behind in appropriately financing public safety.

“We are looking for the city to keep up with industry standards. Chelsea police officers are not making what police officers are making in other communities with far less arrests and crime in general – and so – we are asking for the city to commit more tax dollars to public safety,” they said.

Ash said Chelsea’s commitment was absolute and increasing from year to year.

“We continue to commit more public safety dollars to policing. We have the largest number of police officers ever. And we are spending more money per police officer than we ever have,” he added. “Unfortunately we have to balance our budget. I believe our police officers do terrific work. And in a perfect world I’d give them everything they want but this is not a perfect world,” Ash said.

Rivera and McCarthy insist the city needs to commit more funding to the police department.

At the very least, they said, the city should approve a cost of living raise for all police officers and to approve a new contract for 3 years, which is back dated at least 2 years to make up for the 2 years they have been working without a contract.

So in fact, the CPPOA is looking for a 5 year deal.

“We’re looking to the future,” said the union representatives. Both are longtime Chelsea police officers who are intending to remain in their positions and who said they take a great deal of pride in their jobs here.

They believe the department is suffering from a malaise – a general morale downturn – because the city is not committing enough funding to the police department, that the starting salary of $39,000 is too low and that the gap between what Chelsea commits to public safety when compared with other cities and towns is too low.

“Why hire people, train them, send them out on the streets to do a difficult job only to have them leave for positions in other cities and towns where the pay is higher and the benefits are better?” asked Rivera.

“There is a gap and it needs to be corrected and with a new contract, perhaps we move closer to that end,” he said.

Ash was circumspect.

“I believe all our employees deserve cost of living increases. The question is how much and how much can the city’s taxpayers afford? I don’t have a sense at all about a morale downturn. I think our officers are proud of being members of the department and in fact, I only can recall one officer leaving in the last 15 years to take a position in another police force for higher pay,” Ash said.

City financial records reveal that in 2011 at least 15 CPD officers out of a contingent of 70 earned more than $100,000. This means that 21 per cent of Chelsea’s police officers – not ranking officers – earned more than $100,000.

“I believe our officers do a great job here. Any difficulty labor and management is having coming to terms on a contract does not diminish at all the respect I have for the men and women who make us proud everyday,” Ash said.

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