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Chelmsford Patrol Officers Win Changes Via Arbitration

October 2, 2018

CHELMSFORD -- Patrol officers will be compensated for 40 hours of work instead of 37.5 hours a week in addition to other changes stipulated in a binding arbitration award.

The award, handed down Sept. 9 from the state Joint Labor Management Committee for Municipal Police & Fire Interest Arbitration Panel, carries a $158,023 cost for the length of the contract, spanning fiscal years 2017 through 2019. The amount will be brought forward for funding at fall Town Meeting, which begins Oct. 15.

“The town respects the arbitration decision, which is based upon market conditions, and we look forward to favorable action at Town Meeting,” Town Manager Paul Cohen said Monday.

According to the arbitration document, the earlier arbitration award granted to the town’s firefighters’ union in March -- which gave fire captains and privates on the top step 2 percent raises across the board for each of the same three fiscal years of the contract as well as retroactive EMT stipend increases -- played a role in the panel’s decision to award the patrol officers the pay increase. The firefighters’ union March 26 arbitration award carried a known cost of about $782,000 over the three years, and was expected to rise to about $1 million when factoring in additional overtime and new personnel costs associated with new fire apparatus minimum staffing requirements.

“In comparing the total cost of the firefighter package and the police package, the aim of the panel was to have a total overall package of the settlement similar to the firefighters,” the police arbitration document states.

The Chelmsford Police Association was awarded the following:

* Paid work week will increase from 37.5 hours to 40 hours, with no change in the schedule, effective Jan. 1, 2019. Officers are scheduled to work 40 hours each week, but were previously not compensated for a half-hour meal break each day. The panel noted many towns comparable to Chelmsford compensate officers for the full 40 hours, as well as Chelmsford’s own dispatchers.

* A .5 percent increase in the wage scale for each of the three years of the contract, retroactive to July 1, 2016.

* A night-shift differential increase from $1.73 per hour to $2 per hour.

The panel also awarded the town a change in how firearms training time is compensated. Like with other types of training, officers will now be given compensatory time for firearms training instead of overtime pay. The union had sought to keep the practice of overtime pay for this training.

New language proposed by the town regarding light-duty assignments remains unsettled.

“The union was not opposed to the concept of light duty language but argued that additional discussions are needed before effective and sensible language could be agreed to,” the award document states.

The panel referred the subject to a labor management committee. If they cannot reach a settlement by Jan. 1, they will return to the arbitrator “for future mediation and/or arbitration,” the document states.

Chelmsford Police Association President Brian Richard could not immediately be reached for comment.

Only the contract for the Chelmsford Superior Officers union, consisting of seven police sergeants, remains in arbitration. Cohen said the next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19, so he does not anticipate a resolution in time for fall Town Meeting.

All other collective bargaining agreements with town unions expire on June 30, 2019, the last day of fiscal 2019. Cohen said negotiations for new contracts will begin shortly after Town Meeting.

Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.

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