2017-07-13 / Front Page

Police Vote Put Council in a ‘Difficult Position’

By Olga Enger

After Middletown police voted to break away from the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Lodge 534 (IBPO) as their collective bargaining unit, councilors said they were put in a difficult position when it came to defining benefits such as compensation and insurance.

“I just want to make it clear that in the council taking this action, it’s not by choice, it’s by necessity,” said Council President Robert Sylvia.

On June 20, the majority of officers voted to decertify the IBPO as their representative during a closed-ballot, decertification election at town hall. As a result of the election, the police officers are no longer represented by the IBPO and the town is not legally allowed to engage in labor negotiations with the IBPO. Consequently, there is no collective bargaining unit for the police department. The previous contract negotiated by the IBPO expired on June 30, 2017. Although the IBPO had been in discussions with the town, they were unable to reach a new agreement.

“That puts the town in a very difficult position,” said Sylvia. “We have been advised that when a union is decertified, any agreements it reached with the town no longer have any effect. That means the town’s collective bargaining agreement with the police officers is no longer valid.”

While many contractual areas are covered under local, state and federal law, the council is required to “fill in the blanks” until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, Sylvia said.

Due to changes in the state labor rules last year, a new union must be certified as a separate process, which may take months to complete, explained Town Solicitor Peter Regan.

Officers approved the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union to represent them, going forward, but they have not yet gone through the new process for certification.

“The contract itself is no longer in effect,” said Town Administrator Shawn Brown.

Council approved a one percent pay increase effective July 1, 2017 and another one percent increase effective Jan. 1, 2018. That is the same increase schedule granted to the firefighters and department of public works employees. Council also voted to maintain the current health and dental insurance plans.

Sylvia addressed the police officers in the audience, who were visibly displeased that the town declared the contract no longer in effect. No officers spoke at the meeting.

“For those of you smirking, we have a charter to live up to,” said Sylvia. “And we are going to live up to that charter, because it’s not just for you, it’s for every resident of the Town of Middletown...This process is a result of the decertification of the IBPO and is not a result of any choices by the town administrator or this town council. We are taking these steps because the law requires us to do so.”

Vice President Paul Rodrigues questioned if the open meeting was the appropriate place for the discussion.

“I understand what has happened, and I understand the town has an obligation…I think before I want to act on it, I want to have a discussion on it, and I’m not sure this is the appropriate forum to have a discussion on it. Is it? When we talk about personnel, we talk about it in executive session. This is the first time this has ever happened. I’ve been here 13, 14 years now.”

Regan described the council action as “housekeeping” and “limited” to fill in the blanks until a new collective bargaining unit is certified. He also clarified that because the council is not discussing performance, the conversation may be held in an open meeting.

“In all honesty, I recommended this be put out in front, not in an executive meeting, where everyone speculates on what is going on,” said Sylvia. “Ladies and gentlemen, we didn’t do this. You just decertified your union. You put us in a position where we had to react to cover certain voids in the contract. There is nothing unfair that I see about this…we didn’t do this, we are reacting to it.”

Councilors approved the salary and insurance recommendations in a 5-1 vote. Councilor Rick Lombardi voted against the motion and Councilor Antone Viveiros was absent.

“Philosophically, I’m not supporting this,” said Lombardi. “I have my reasons. I don’t think it’s something I should discuss in open session…my feelings about this are not something I should be discussing publicly. I’m just saying that I’m not going to support this, tonight. If at some other time, we have an opportunity in executive session to discuss this, I’ll make my feelings known.”

Personnel matters covered by local, state and federal laws (no council action required):

Hiring, recruitment and promotional procedures

Paid and unpaid leave

Family medical leave

Overtime

Retirement

Grievance procedures

Staffing

The next town council meeting will be held Monday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m., at Middletown Town Hall.

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