Holyoke City Council set to finalize police union contract


Staff Writer
Published: 6/15/2020 4:36:05 PM

HOLYOKE — The City Council is set to finalize a new contract with the union representing Holyoke police officers at its meeting Tuesday.

The labor agreement would retroactively cover the period from July 1, 2019, to June 20, 2022. It includes pay bumps for officers, including significant incentives for those seeking college degrees; a provision that would limit the amount of time written reprimands are kept in an officer’s file (18 months); and an agreement that the city would pay half of an officer’s annual dues to the Massachusetts Police Association’s legal defense fund.

Mayor Alex Morse and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 388 signed the three-year contract in January. However, the City Council still needs to make a financial transfer of $184,246 for retroactive pay in order for the contract to be verified. That transfer is on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting and was recommended for approval by the City Council’s Finance Committee.

MOA between Holyoke and IBPO Local 388 by Dusty Christensen on Scribd

The issue comes as protests over racism and police violence continue across the country. A central demand for many Black Lives Matter protesters has been to defund police departments and redirect that money to other vital services. When asked if he supports defunding the Holyoke Police Department, Morse previously told the Gazette he felt that the city already does a good job directing police away from punitive measures.

The transfer needed to finalize the city’s contract with patrol officers was the subject of lengthy discussion during several recent meetings of the Finance Committee.

Much of the discussion centered around the educational incentives included in the contract, which would give officers who are not eligible for state educational incentives a 6% increase to their base pay if they get an associate degree, 10% for a bachelor’s and 12% for a master’s degree. Currently, those officers receive a flat yearly incentive: $2,200 for an associate degree, $4,400 for a bachelor’s and $6,000 for a master’s.

Those flat-rate incentives were put into place shortly before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2012 that communities were not obligated to pay the state’s share of education benefits that police officers had previously been afforded under what was known as the Quinn Bill.

That 1970s law gave officers an incentive for pursuing degrees in the field, but in 2009 the state began to eliminate its own funding of the bill. The state’s top court found that communities had to continue to pay their half of the incentive but did not have to pick up any additional costs.

During a Thursday meeting of the Finance Committee, Ward 5 Councilor Linda Vacon noted that the city has been trying to get out from underneath the costs it still shoulders for those still eligible for Quinn incentives. That is the reason officers currently receive a flat rate, she said, whereas the new agreement would see those payments become a percentage of base pay.

“This is, in essence, re-implementing the Quinn Bill,” Vacon said. She also said that the union representing police supervisors have a provision in their contract that allows them to reopen negotiations for their own educational benefits if the patrolmen’s union receives them. “I can’t imagine they wouldn’t seek equity in that regard.”

Vacon said she was concerned because she wants to preserve police jobs but also knows how large of a cost the Quinn Bill was for the city. Others, too, have expressed concern over the costs of the incentives. At-Large Councilor Joe McGiverin said he was worried about the rising costs as the years pass, noting that such increases have in the past led the police force to diminish staffing.

“All I can say right now is the representative for the police department did a hell of a much better job of negotiating a deal for them than the city did,” At-Large Councilor Michael Sullivan said at a May 27 Finance Committee meeting.

In addition to the educational incentives, the contract gives officers a 0.5% retroactive pay increase for fiscal year 2019, a 1.5% increase on July 1, a 1% increase on Jan. 1, 2021, and two more 1.5% increases on July 1, 2021 and Jan. 1, 2022.

The new contract also contains a “sunset provision” stating that if the police chief issues an officer a written reprimand, “said reprimand will exist in file for up to eighteen (18) months from the date of issue.”

The City Council’s decision on the contract comes amid budget hearings as city leadership prepares for a difficult financial year ahead, given the financial strain placed on municipalities by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a budget hearing Thursday, Morse presented a $142.3 million budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. As uncertainty continues over the level of state and federal aid that will be directed to municipalities, Morse proposed a budget that would see level funding for a majority city departments “with the exception of prior negotiated obligations and union contracts.” There are no layoffs proposed as part of the mayor’s spending plan.

2016-2019 contract between Holyoke and IBPO Local 388 by Dusty Christensen on Scribd

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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