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January 30. 2013 10:29PM

Windham police grievance is denied

WINDHAM - Windham police officers won't be eligible for step-rate pay increases as long as they're working under an expired union contract, town officials said this week.

During a continued grievance hearing held at the start of Monday night's board of selectmen meeting, the board denied Windham Police Officer Christopher Van Hirtum's request that his pay reflect the step increases outlined in the expired police contract.

Though Selectman Ross McLeod supported the police grievance, the three other board members in attendance voted against it and the request was denied. Chairman Bruce Breton wasn't present at Monday night's meeting due to an illness.

At the initial grievance hearing on Dec. 13, Van Hirtum alleged that the denial of a pay increase constituted a breach of contract by Town Administrator David Sullivan.

According to the outdated contract, Van Hirtum's hourly pay rate was due to be increased from $20.72 to $21.93.

Sullivan, who didn't attend last month's hearing, said Monday night that the issue wasn't a reflection of Van Hirtum's work performance.

"Unfortunately, we've been without a contract with the police union since 2011," Sullivan said, noting that other officers have been denied similar step increases following the contract's expiration.

The town administrator said the current wording on the contract with AFSCME Local 3657 states that step increases are incurred following a 12-month probation period when a contract is current. Windham's contract with the town's police union expired in March 2011. Van Hirtum was hired the following October.

"When we're not in contract status, steps are the discretionary decision of the town," Sullivan added. Police union steward Shane Mirisola, who spoke on behalf of Van Hirtum, said he had reason to believe otherwise.

"The argument is that we're hired at a probationary pay and after one year, we get into the union. Officer Van Hirtum is paying union dues and is receiving every benefit besides (a pay increase)," Mirisola said. "Steps are within a collective bargaining agreement."

Sullivan asked the board to seek legal counsel regarding policies on step increases for probationary employees.

Windham town officials and members of the local police union are currently in the process of negotiating a new contract, however a lengthy meeting with an arbitrator earlier this month was unsuccessful.

Windham labor attorney Mark Broth said there's no question the (expired) union contract specifies step increases, making it part of the collective bargaining agreement.

"The question is, what is the continuation of that right after the expiration of a contract?" Broth said. "The N.H. Supreme Court has ruled in a number of cases that certain things must remain in place following the expiration of a contract. But then there are certain things that are frozen, among them step increases."

Broth added that following the contract's expiration, the town still has "an obligation to maintain status quo" but beyond that the public has "really been denied its opportunity to vote on cost items."

aguilmet@newstote.com

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