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April 22. 2013 10:12PM

Nashua officials split on preferential treatment of police unions in contracts

NASHUA - An aldermanic panel recommended approval of four collective bargaining agreements proposed by city police unions, despite opposition from the mayor and two aldermen.

Although the aldermanic Budget Review Committee ultimately voted in favor of the new police union contracts Monday, two members voiced serious concerns about two of the four agreements because they do not include retroactive health care concessions.

"I hate to do this, but I have a problem with this," said Alderman Brian McCarthy, board president. "We told the employees in this building retro or nothing, and it is fundamentally unfair to do it this way."

McCarthy stressed that 1,700 other city employees previously agreed to retroactive health care concessions, but two of the four police unions have not.

"I just think this is going to cause problems across the board," agreed Alderman Richard Dowd, who said half of the proposed police union contracts are unfair to the city's other unions.

Police Commissioner Thomas Pappas maintained that each union is unique, with its own dynamics and history.

Pappas said the two police unions that are not including retroactive pay - the Nashua Police Department's communication and UAW unions - are asking for no pay increases in the first two years of the three-year contracts.

"When you look at the bottom line, we get to where we need to be," agreed Alderman Lori Wilshire, explaining all of the unions will be under the same health plan once the new agreements are ratified.

Alderman James Donchess echoed those comments, adding the take-home pay for those union members will not change because they will be paying higher health insurance contributions with no wage adjustments until the third year.

"A retroactive payment is six percent of their pay, so for a time they would be taking a major cut in pay," Donchess maintained.

McCarthy said he would have preferred to see the contracts constructed differently to allow for wage increases within the first two years for two of the union agreements.

"I want to see people get better compensation," contended McCarthy. "I think this contract could have been negotiated differently."

Donchess argued that fairness depends upon where you look. He mentioned the city's acquisition of Pennichuck Corp., a company that currently has an employee making $190,000 a year who, according to Donchess, has not likely been asked to make any health care concessions.

Under the supervisors' union proposed contract, police lieutenants would receive a 5.2 percent wage increase over three years; sergeants would receive a wage increase of 4.2 percent. The proposed Teamsters' contract provides a wage increase of $600 for each of the first two years and $925 for the third year.

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

"Under these proposed contracts, police employees would receive preferential treatment in regard to their wages and benefits at a higher cost to the city," Mayor Donnalee Lozeau recently wrote in a letter to McCarthy. " ... The city's budget and its taxpayers cannot afford the increased wages and benefits which will result from the approval of these contracts."

Lozeau stressed that other city unions previously came to the bargaining table and reached agreements with wage increases of about .5 percent per year, while doubling their health care insurance premium contributions since Oct. 1, 2011.

The committee unanimously recommended approval of two of the contracts. The remaining two contracts were also recommended, but not supported by McCarthy or Dowd.

The proposed agreements will not be ratified until voted on by the full Board of Aldermen.

khoughton@newstote.com

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