NEW BEDFORD — City police officers will receive three retroactive wage increases of 2% for 2018, 2019 and 2020, after seeing no increase since 2018. The retroactive pay and other awards amount to approximately $3.65 million for New Bedford police officers.
The awarding of this pay comes after about three years of arbitration over a collective bargaining agreement between the New Bedford Police Union and the city for a contract spanning 2018 through 2021. A state-appointed arbitration panel last month issued a decision regarding several areas, including wage increases, residency requirements, vacation time and education incentives.
The arbitrator, appointed through the state Joint Labor-Management Committee, approved and denied different proposals presented by both the city and union during negotiations.
The city proposed a 1% wage increase for three years (fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020), while the union proposed 3%. The arbitrator ruled for 2%, stating that while it’s a given that no municipality “ever has sufficient funds” to meet all priorities, New Bedford’s financial position has “steadily improved” over the past 10 years, so it has the ability to pay the 2% increases.
“The City’s proposed wage increases do not comport with the City’s current financial position, the cost of living, or the comparables,” the arbitrator wrote. “As the Union correctly observes, the City’s police officers are among the lowest paid of the comparable communities.”
Those comparable municipalities are Fall River, Taunton, Brockton, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn, per the arbitrator.
The union requested an additional 1% stipend for Narcan administration, arguing it presents risks to officers such as contact with fentanyl, needles and bodily fluids. The arbitrator denied it.
The city proposed requiring all new hires to remain residents of New Bedford as a condition of their employment, an increase of the current 10-year residency requirement for new hires, to which city firefighters are also subject. The arbitrator denied the city, stating the current requirement is already significant.
The city argued the new residency requirement would “strengthen officers’ connection with the community and promote community trust,” and noted if officers receive preference during the hiring process because of their residency, then they should be required to maintain that residency throughout their employment.
However, Chief Paul Oliveira testified that an increase to the current residency requirement would have a negative impact on hiring and retaining officers, according to the arbitration document.
Oliveira previously told The Light that over the last two years, more officers have been leaving the department than over the last five years, and that hiring officers is becoming more difficult. He said it is an issue departments of varying sizes are experiencing.
As a result of the arbitration panel’s judgment, officers will also see a $4-increase to their hourly pay while serving as detail — a cost third parties, not the city, will pay.
The union proposed increases to the monetary education incentives the department currently provides, which range from $2,800 to $11,000 depending on rank and level of law enforcement degree. The arbitrator only approved an increase for one of the three proposed years.
Union President Christopher Cotter said the “failure of the city” to negotiate forced the union’s hand to go to arbitration, and that overall he thinks the union came out “fairly well.”
Mayor Jon Mitchell did not respond to a request for comment through the mayor’s office.
The New Bedford City Council on Tuesday approved Mitchell’s request to transfer the requisite $3.65 million in awarded retroactive pay and other costs from the General Fund Stabilization Fund to the police department.
The next step will be the preparation of a new collective bargaining agreement — the last of which was signed in 2018 — said Mike Lawrence, the city spokesperson.
Cotter said the union is going to “hit negotiations running” with the city as they are still out of a contract. The arbitration ruling only covered a three-year contract that started in 2018 and ended in June of 2021.
The union is in the process of forming a negotiation committee now that the City Council approved the funds.
“I hope that the city and our administration take negotiations seriously … and try to negotiate a fair contract that’s beneficial for everyone involved,” Cotter said.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at email@example.com.