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February 20. 2013 10:34PM

Police chief blasts Nashua mayor's union remarks

NASHUA - The city's police chief is responding to comments made by the mayor during her State of the City address, describing some of her statements as unprofessional.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau placed five police unions into the spotlight on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday when she delivered her annual address before the board of aldermen and then in front of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.

"I believe it was a little uncalled for, and a little unprofessional," Chief John Seusing said on Wednesday, referring to the mayor's comments about five police unions that have failed to reach new contracts. "Her comments certainly don't help the matter."

Ten of the city's 15 unions have renegotiated contracts, according to Lozeau, who praised and thanked employees for paying a 10 percent increase in premium health care costs retroactively to Oct. 1, 2011.

Lozeau said that by the end of February, there will be a shortfall in contributions by police employees totaling $438,415 since the police unions have not renewed their contracts.

"Clearly, we are still in negotiations with our unions. No one more than me wants to get these settled," said Seusing. "We are still hopeful to get them resolved. We are not giving up."

Lozeau said it is the job of the Nashua Police Commission to make sure a good faith collective bargaining process occurs, and to negotiate final contracts that are fair to their employees and also equitable to the sacrifices of all city workers.

"Ten other unions have found a way to do that with their employer boards. There is no reason for the Police Commission and their unions to fail to do so," said the mayor. "I pledge any available resources to assist them. In particular, as always, the significant collective bargaining expertise of the city legal department is at their disposal. That resource alone represents almost 50 years of combined experience in the field of labor negotiations."

She encouraged the commission and police command staff to use the advice, counsel and services of the city's legal department, which Lozeau described as an outstanding resource.

"I was taken aback a little bit," Seusing said of the mayor's comments regarding the city's legal counsel. The chief said her statement misrepresents the situation, stressing the city's corporate counsel is always at the table during police union negotiations, along with a deputy chief and police commissioner.

The message she delivered, according to Seusing, is that the police department could perhaps move the negotiations along quicker with the expertise of city attorneys.

"They have been in every negotiating session," argued Seusing. "I will say very clear and loudly that we have used corporate counsel from day one, and we will continue to do so."

The department is utilizing all of its resources, and to imply otherwise is absolutely false, he said.

The five police unions, which all have contracts that expired in July of 2011, include a supervisor union, patrolmen union and three civilian unions consisting of a Teamsters group, communications union and United Auto Workers union.

Overall, the unions represent a total of about 250 police employees, according to Seusing.

While Seusing would not elaborate on the exact issues delaying the negotiating process, he did admit that health care concessions are a concern.

"We certainly believe we are making a good-faith effort and have been for almost two years," said Police Commissioner Thomas Pappas on Wednesday, adding that he has personally attended numerous mediation sessions. "We are trying hard. We are taking this very seriously. I can understand the frustration, as we are a bit frustrated ourselves."

"But, I don't remember anyone declaring an impasse. We continue to talk," added Pappas.

Lozeau publicly called upon the parties negotiating the five contracts to reach a reasonable resolution reflecting the same principles of fairness and equity achieved in other employee contracts.

"That was, to me, a matter of fairness, because I believe all employees should share the burden equitably," she said. "When the chips are down, there is no credible argument for special treatment of discrete groups. We are all in this together."

The Police Commission has another special meeting in the next few days to discuss the contracts, which Pappas said was scheduled before the mayor's address.

khoughton@newstote.com


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