BARRE — Multiyear contracts with two of the city’s four municipal labor unions quietly expired late last month, and negotiating new agreements covering most employees of the Police Department, as well as the city’s clerical and custodial staff, is on City Manager Steve Mackenzie’s summer to-do list.
According to Mackenzie, lingering uncertainty about the fate of the municipal budget, which voters rejected twice before finally approving it last month, was largely to blame for his reluctance to begin negotiations sooner.
However, Mackenzie said he will be opening contract talks with clerical and custodial staff Friday and expects to schedule a similar session with the newly reorganized police union in the next few weeks.
Originally organized under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the city’s union police officers and emergency dispatchers are now represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, according to Mackenzie.
With affected employees now working under expired three-year contracts, Mackenzie said negotiating new agreements — likely to take months — would be a priority.
“It’s how I’m going to be spending my summer and fall,” he said, noting that, “when appropriate,” the new contracts would be retroactive to July 1.
Both local bargaining units have been here before. Each is coming off a separately negotiated three-year contract that wasn’t ratified until months after the earlier labor agreements had lapsed.
It took 10 months and an assist from a federal mediator to wrap up the last round of police negotiations. The three-year deal was ratified in September 2011 — more than two months into the new fiscal and contract year. However, those negotiations had started in December 2010 before stalling and then restarting during a midsummer mediation session.
Instead of calling in a mediator for an August intervention this year, police negotiations should just be getting underway next month even as officials in Barre and Montpelier prepare to launch a public safety authority that could result in the merger of some or all of the two communities’ emergency services.
Emergency dispatch has frequently been singled out as the most logical starting point for a regional authority. Among the thornier issues still unresolved is how to handle existing labor agreements. That could be an added wrinkle in negotiations with the new union representing police.
For years the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had separately represented members of both the city’s Police and Public Works departments. However, the police decision to reorganize under the Fraternal Order of Police now means all four of the city’s municipal bargaining units are organized under different unions.
Mackenzie and the city’s negotiating team are to meet Friday with representatives of the United Steelworkers of America to open negotiations on a new contract for the city’s clerical and custodial staff. Sometime in the next few weeks a similar meeting will be held with representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Contracts with the city’s two other labor unions won’t expire until next year. Union members of the local Fire and Ambulance Department, who are represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters, have just entered the final year of a three-year contract that runs through June 30, 2015. That agreement was ratified nearly nine months after the earlier contract expired.
The current contract with public works employees, who are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, runs through Dec. 31, 2015.
Though negotiations with the police and clerical and custodial staff haven’t started, the recently approved municipal budget includes Mackenzie’s best guess about where they might end.
If talks drag into next year, Mackenzie will have to double down on that guesswork while making fresh assumptions involving looming negotiations with firefighters and public works employees when preparing the budget that will be presented to voters in March.
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