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June 17. 2013 7:06PM

Nashua's police unions consider next move on contracts

NASHUA — It has been one month since the Board of Aldermen rejected three collective bargaining agreements between the city and police unions, and now each of the unions must decide whether to go back to the negotiating table.

The unions could either return to negotiations or declare an impasse, according to Police Commissioner Thomas Pappas.

“We are really exploring what to do next. There may be some options, so we are reaching out to the unions to see what makes sense for each of them,” Pappas said on Monday.

Most of the police unions have been working under contracts that expired nearly two years ago.

“It is not healthy to have the unions without a contract for that long. It has an impact, certainly on morale and eventually, I predict, it will have an impact on recruiting,” said Pappas.

Although no formal decision has been made by union officials, Pappas said he expects a decision to be made within the next few weeks on whether to go back to the negotiating table or have the parties declare an impasse.

If an impasse is declared, Pappas said a fact-finding process could take place.

“My preference is to try to get a contract in as soon as possible, so whatever would get us there quicker would be fine with me. But I assume the fact-finding process would be lengthy,” said Pappas.

Union members, along with the police commission, are disappointed city officials did not approve the agreements, according to Pappas, who said both groups worked diligently over an extended period of time to draft the contracts.

Last month, aldermen failed to approve three police union contracts, including the supervisors’ contract, police communications contract and the UAW contract.

At the time, a few aldermen cited preferential treatment in the agreements, arguing some of the union contracts did not include retroactive health care concessions from the last two years.

In addition, at least one of the contracts — the supervisors association — recommended salary increases that some aldermen maintained were significantly higher than other city unions.

“I can’t support this. I won’t support this,” Alderman Arthur Craffey said before the vote last month, urging his fellow board members to reject the contracts and send them back for further negotiations because the wage increases were too high.

However, Alderman-at-Large James Donchess has been a strong supporter of the police unions, saying repeatedly that it is not wise to walk away from significant health care concessions even if they aren’t retroactive.

Under the previously proposed supervisors’ union contract, police lieutenants would have received a 5.2 percent wage increase over three years, and sergeants would have received a wage increase of 4.2 percent over that same time frame.

Under the recently proposed UAW and communications union contracts, employees would not have received wage increases during the first two years, but would have obtained a 3.5 and 1.5 percent pay increase, respectively, in fiscal year 2014.

Although aldermen did approve a contract with the police teamsters’ union, a fifth police union — the Nashua Police Patrolman’s Association — has not yet reached a new contract to present to city officials.

“It may become nearly impossible to settle with police patrolmen because a reasonable contract for police supervisors has been rejected,” Donchess said earlier in a letter to the Board of Aldermen claiming a double standard in wages for city workers. “Neither of these groups are stupid, and they must realize that other employee groups are getting more than the police would have received under a contract that was rejected for providing too much.”

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau previously asked the board not to ratify the police union contracts.

In a letter earlier this spring to aldermen, Lozeau said that under the previously proposed contracts, police employees would receive preferential treatment in regard to their wages and benefits at a higher cost to the city.

“The city’s budget and its taxpayers cannot afford the increased wages and benefits which will result from the approval of these contracts,” she said at the time.

The recent budget process has delayed talks with the unions slightly, according to Pappas, who said a decision should be made within a month as to where to go next with the contract agreements. Police Chief John Seusing was unavailable for comment on Monday.khoughton@newstote.com


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