The Methuen Police Superior Officer’s Union is taking the city to court over the illegal activity on the city’s part in passing their contract and changing the terms of the contract in what they believe is an violation of the Wage Act.
Last night the Methuen City Council agreed to put back $1.2M of the $1.8M they cut from the police budget, in order to avoid layoffs. Sources in the police department say that there will still be upwards of 10 layoffs because the city council did not put back enough money to close the budget gap they created.
The only city councilor who voted against the money transfer was Councilor Jessica Finocchiaro who said that she could not vote to put the money back into the police budget without first getting a financial impact statement, which nobody will give her.
Councilor Finocchiaro predicted that if the vote went through, the city would be doing exactly the same thing that the previous council, by voting on money with no idea how it will impact the overall city budget and “could lead to more litigation,”
This morning, Attorney Gary Dolan, who represents the police superior officer’s union sent a letter to Mayor Jajuga’s Office stating that they believe the city is contractually obligated to pay the original contract, the Inspector General’s report notwithstanding.
“As before, the city is claiming that it was completely in the dark about the terms negotiated under the current CBA and now, as of very recently, is claiming that an opinion letter written by the Commonwealth Inspector General, mostly alleging negligence against city officials, justifies the city’s breach of the current contract. The Union disagrees. The parties are both subject to the terms of the current contract, approved by a unanimous city council, all of whom had advice as well as plenty of time and opportunity to review and question the contract. The varying opinions sought out by the city to avoid its obligations notwithstanding, the contract remains binding.”
The letter further states: “With regard to your request that the union return to the restart bargaining over a new successor CBA (in other words, agree to the position that there is no current CBA), the union declines.”
Greg Gallant, president of the Methuen Superior Officers’ Union told The Valley Patriot today that he believes the wrongdoing on the city’s part does not invalidate their contract. The Inspector Generals’ report found no wrongdoing on the part of the union or the superior officers in it’s scathing report on wrongdoing by city officials.
“I keep hearing people questioning who wrote the contract, who put that language in the contact. I can tell you the executive board of the superior officers wrote that language. That’s our job, to write contract language. And we put that language in the contract because former Auditor Tom Kelley was trying to illegally determine contract language when calculating overtime. We wanted it to be as clear as possible.”
Gallant says that back in 1971 the Attorney General found that communities are legally bound to calculate as base-pay, money cops receive under the “Quinn Bill” [money they receive for continuing education].
“But, Tom Kelly made legal determinations that were wrong,” Gallant says. “It’s not the accountant’s job or the assessor’s job to make legal determinations on contract language.”
The letter sent by Attorney Dolan to the city says that the union is prepared to take the city to court.
“Should the city breach its obligation under the contract, the union and its members will take all action to enforce the contract, including as we had indicated before, moving forward with the arbitration process, and pursuing claims under the Massachusetts Wage Act, which as you know, if successful, mandate the payments of triple damages and attorney’s fees. Also, the act provides for personal liability against responsible offices and agents of the city.”
“Also, you have given the union notice that the city intends to stop paying the superior officer’s the reduced salary rates that were negotiated in the MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding). As you recall, the superior officers gave back to the city considerable wage benefits, resulting in the guaranteed reduction of salaries under the CBA. Please be advised that – should the city revert back to the prior CBA in effect (the old contract) under the prior language, because of the method require to calculate salaries, the superior officer’s salaries will actually be the same and in many instances will be greater than the reduced rate under the MOU. In other words, the city may be spending more money than they currently are under the MOU. While I Can only assume that the city has received the financial impact of making this change, I have not been made aware that my assumptions s accurate. Of course, should the city breach that prior agreement, it may incur additional Wage Act claims and triple damages etc.”
The letter also states that the Inspector General’s report was “advisory in nature” and “speculative” and “does not relieve the city of its’ contractual obligations. In order to attempt a rescission of the CBA, the city will, of course, need to litigate before the Ethics Commission the issues the issues raised in the opinion, and must obtain findings, after a full adjudicatory process, that several individual councilors and other officers guilty of violating he state ethics laws under MGL c. 268A.