Saugus Patrolmen’s Union files lawsuit against Selectmen

Union cites delay of 2012 arbitration award

 

By Matthew Robare

 

The Saugus Police Patrolmen’s Union is suing the Saugus Board of Selectmen for not acting on a Joint Labor Commission arbitration award made in January of 2012. Last summer Town Meeting voted to refer the article to the Board of Selectmen, and the union wants some action on it.

“What happens when a town and a union can’t agree on a contract—they agree to go to the Joint Labor and get an arbitrator,” said Matt Vecchio, president of the Saugus Police Patrolmen’s Union. “We got an award last January and it was put before Town Meeting last June. Town Meeting referred the award back to the Board of Selectmen, because at the time the financial situation of the town was uncertain and Town Meeting was not ready to have a vote on it.”

Funding the award was the cause of a highly contentious debate in the packed Town Hall auditorium—largely because funding it would have resulted in two options unacceptable to many residents. Town Manager Scott Crabtree’s proposed budget, which funded the award as a matter of legal obligation, would have defunded the library and the Youth and Recreation Department among others. The alternative was to dip into the limited stabilization funds, a move the finance committee was not about to endorse.

Matters were complicated by the nature of the award itself. It was the opinion of Town Counsel John Vasapoli that the town could either fund the award or go back to the drawing board. “My opinion was that voting to refer it wasn’t funding it,” Vasapoli said. “I would say that it has to go back to the bargaining stage. It’s now a negotiation between the manager and the union.”

At the Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday night, Vecchio spoke to the Board, talking about the lawsuit.

“The board has no authority to negotiate contracts,” Chairman Michael Serino said.

“We’re not asking you to negotiate a contract,” Vecchio responded.

“The selectmen have no authority to negotiate and neither does the Town Meeting. All the Town Meeting can do is appropriate or not appropriate.” Vasapoli said.

“What we’re looking for is some direction on what the board wants to do. The financial picture is a lot better than what was told to us.” Vecchio told the board.

The issue came down to whether the Town Meeting could refer the award without killing it. Serino and Vasapoli maintained that not funding the award sends it back to the negotiation stage, but Vecchio and the union believed that the board still has some work that it can do—hence the lawsuit.

“They apparently feel that the Selectmen should be doing something,” Vasapoli said.

Vecchio said that with the award up in the air the police are still on their old contracts, which expired in June 2008.

“What we want [the board] to do is put it back in front of Town Meeting…we’re not asking them to get involved in contract negotiations, we want them to put it back in front of Town Meeting so they can vote on it like they’re supposed to,” Vecchio said. “The Board of Selectmen’s inaction on this has forced us to file the lawsuit. If they had addressed this, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

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