Arbitration grants Mass. police brass a contract after 4 years of negotiations
The contract calls for sergeants, lieutenants and captains to receive 3% raises annually retroactive for the years they went without a contract
By Jeanette DeForge
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — After nearly four years of negotiations, dozens of Springfield police supervisors have a contract. But they will wait a few more weeks to know if the agreement is funded.
Then their representatives will return to bargaining in January for the next pay pact.
The four-year contract calls for the supervisors, who are sergeants, lieutenants and captains, to receive 3% raises annually retroactive for the years they went without a contract. If approved by the City Council, raises for the roughly 75 supervisors will be granted retroactively to July 1 of 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023.
The final contract will cost a little over $3 million to fund, said William Mahoney, director of human resources and labor relations for the city.
“It is a good decision, it addresses issues of both parties,” Mahoney said, adding he felt it was fair.
The agreement raises the weekly salaries of sergeants to $1,790 in fiscal year 2022 and $1,899 in fiscal year 2024; lieutenants will go to $2,096 in 2022 and $2,223 in 2024; captains will go to $2,452 in 2022 and $2,602 in 2024.
Binding arbitration usedAfter years of failed negotiations, which included mediation, the two sides agreed to go to binding arbitration with the state’s Joint Labor Management Commission for Police and Fire. Each side could bring five issues to the table. The commission’s agreement on each is binding, Mahoney said.
“The city’s five issues were all issues in the DOJ settlement agreement,” he said. “I’m happy to report that we got all five of those issues. These were significant issues.”
The Department of Justice released a scathing report about the now-dissolved police narcotics bureau in the summer of 2020 — the result of a two-year investigation by the federal agency. It said officers in the bureau routinely used excessive force and altered police reports to justify their actions. The report said officers punched people in the face unnecessarily and used unreasonable takedown maneuvers.
The report resulted in a 2022 consent decree between the city and the U.S. Attorney’s office that called for multiple reforms within the department. Making many of those improvements required agreements with the unions that represent the patrolmen and the supervisors.
Some of the issues brought forward and accepted for the new contract were provisions to create a formal 12-week field training program for recruits just out of the academy — and having supervisors conduct regular performance evaluations for people they oversee.
Officers will receive a $1,000 annual stipend for participating in each, Mahoney said.
“The union does not oppose this provision (the training program) but similar to the performance evaluation program, this also requires additional work by the sergeants, lieutenants and captains and additional compensation,” the contract read.
When asked if the supervisor’s union had concerns about the arbitrator’s ruling and the provisions in the contract, Capt. Brian Keenan, president of the union, did not bring up any to the City Council.
“We are required to support the agreement by law,” he said.
Lingering issueFor some city councilors, a key issue concerns what isn’t in the contract: a proposal to extend the time the police department’s internal affairs unit has to investigate and bring disciplinary charges against officers accused of abuse and other violations.
In the patrolmen’s contract, there was an agreement to extend the time from 90 to 120 days. That issue did not make the top five the city brought to the table, Mahoney said. Others not brought to binding arbitration included having disciplinary hearings recorded and requiring supervisors wear name tags.
The existing provision has a clause that extends the investigative deadline in cases where the city does not learn about the allegation against an officer until later. The 90-day investigation window essentially begins on the day when the accusation is reported or discovered, he said.
Since the contract expires in June 2024, the city and union will be returning to the bargaining table as soon as January — and that issue is on the list of new things to negotiate, Mahoney said.
City councilors debated the issue for at least 45 minutes. A first vote to move it to subcommittee for further study failed 6-6. After more discussion, the council voted again and several members switched their vote to send it to committee.
Mahoney argued the contract agreement is legally binding and cannot be changed. City Councilor Sean Curran said he felt it is worth exploring nonetheless, saying a side letter could be added to the contract. He argued that the issue is important because the city has spent millions to settle police brutality claims in recent years.
“I don’t think a two-week delay is unreasonable. It’s been going on for … years,” he said.
Councilor Tracye Whitfield initially argued to approve the contract, but send the issue to subcommittee for debate. When the first vote failed, she switched her vote and sent the pact to subcommittee without giving the contract the final approval.
“I think they deserve a raise,” she said. “It is not going to change and the negotiations will come back to the table in 2024.”