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Police Union First to Agree on Pact

August 18, 2018

LOWELL -- After months of negotiations with the new city manager -- following negotiations that were favorable to unions with the previous city manager -- the first of 17 city unions has a contract.

The City Council on Tuesday adopted the three-year contract for the Lowell Police Superior Officers. The officers will receive a salary increase of about 5 percent staggered over the three-year deal, a significantly smaller increase than was proposed by the former city administration.

The agreement will also result in dashboard cameras for police vehicles, and the implementation for a random drug-testing policy. Furthermore, the city and union agreed to periodically meet to continue discussions on body cameras for members of the Lowell Police Department.

“We’re going to continue to work with new chief and union discussing that,” City Manager Eileen Donoghue said.

They have to explore the cost of body cameras, how they would be implemented and where the data would be stored. The city and union will sit down every six months to engage in non-binding discussions regarding the use of body cams.

The City Council voted 9-0 on Tuesday to adopt the contract.

In the first year of the deal, which started on July 1, the salary increase is 2 percent. The union members will receive retroactive pay back to July 1.

In the second year, the salary increase will be 1 percent on July 1, 2019. Then, there will be a 1 percent salary increase effective on Jan. 1, 2020, the midpoint of year two.

The third year salary increase will be 1 percent. On the final day of the contract, June 30, 2021, union members will receive a 1 percent increase.

The city and union also agreed on installing dashboard cameras on about 90 percent of the fleet. Those will be installed by Feb. 1, 2019.

The drug-testing program will be implemented on July 1, 2019. This program will include “reasonable suspicion drug testing, random drug testing, post-incident drug testing, unannounced follow-up drug testing, and rehabilitation for employees found to be in violation of such testing.”

This agreement with the city’s first union comes after some controversy over negotiations. The firefighters’ union, Local 853 IAFF, has filed a charge against the city with the state Labor Relations Commission, saying the new city manager is refusing to honor a contract agreement negotiated by the former city manager, Kevin Murphy.

The agreement was negotiated with Murphy in the final days of his tenure before Donoghue took over in April. The contract never went in front of the City Council for approval. Back then, Murphy was offering a 9 percent salary increase -- 3 percent each year for three years.

In response to the firefighters’ union, the city has said that the prior negotiations with the former city manager were not binding or complete. In addition, the city stressed that the negotiated wage packages would be “financially unsustainable” for the city, resulting in layoffs and budget deficits.

As far as this contract with the Lowell Police Superior Officers, the parties also agreed to a 3-percent step raise on a union member’s 10th anniversary as a permanent superior officer.

This raise is intended to address the decline in the number of promotional exam takers and overall scoring. Recent results have shown higher than expected fail rates -- 60 percent in 2015, and 66 percent in 2016.

Additionally, of eligible officers, a lower than expected percentage are taking the exam -- 39 percent took the exam in 2015, and 24 percent took the exam in 2017. The step raise is aimed at incentivizing a greater number of eligible members to compete for various supervisory roles within the Lowell Police Department, according to Donoghue.

“It’s one tool to incentivize a greater pool of candidates to take the sergeant’s exam,” she said.

Under the contract, they also agreed to create a policy regarding the proper handling, and the creation of work areas, for fentanyl and other dangerous substances seized and brought to the police department.

At the end of the fiscal year, the city administration set aside about $2 million for potential salary increases from collective bargaining agreements. With funding set aside for salary increases, Donoghue has said the city won’t be scrambling for cash once the contracts are settled.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.

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