Police OK eight-year contract

Yale police officers overwhelmingly voted Monday to approve the contract tentatively agreed to by their union two weeks ago, ending more than two years of negotiations.

Forty-two members of the University’s police union voted to accept the proposed contract, with only 12 union members voting to reject it. The new eight-year contract will bring a large rise in officers’ pension benefits and a wage increase, though it does not include the substantial overhaul of long-term disability compensation, overtime and discipline the union wanted.

Members of the Yale Police Benevolent Association — which represents 58 officers and detectives — had been renewing its contract on a monthly basis since it expired 26 months ago. Christopher Morganti, the YPBA’s chief steward, said he was pleased Yale police finally have a new contract.

“Obviously the membership spoke and they’re for it,” he said. “I’m glad [the vote] wasn’t really close because really close wouldn’t have been good for the membership.”

Morganti and other union leaders had decided to give members a tepid assessment of the contract — neither encouraging them to approve or reject it — when they presented the offer to union members last week. YPBA leaders had expressed uncertainty about whether members would approve the settlement prior to Monday’s vote.

YPBA leaders and Yale reached a tentative agreement Sept. 7, after a 14-hour bargaining session in City Hall. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. acted as a mediator during the negotiations and later prodded YPBA members to vote yes when the contract’s passage was in doubt.

DeStefano, who also helped end a three-week strike by Locals 34 and 35 — Yale’s clerical, technical, service, and maintenance workers — last year, said he saw the vote as another step in overcoming Yale’s often tense labor history.

“Yale’s got labor peace now for six years,” DeStefano said. “I’m more hopeful than I’ve been in a long time. This was the last piece that was left over.”

A dramatic increase in pension is the most important change in the new contract, especially for older officers, Morganti said. Many officers, including Morganti, will likely retire under the new pension plan, which increases the pension multiplier from two to 2.5 percent, he said.

“When you get older, the demands of the job are harder,” Morganti said. “The pension really goes to the heart of that, and says you really shouldn’t be a cop in your late 50s.”

University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said an increased pension was also an important development for Yale, which has frequently lost experienced officers because of a weak pension plan.

“We don’t have trouble attracting good officers,” Highsmith said. “We do have trouble with retention.”

Officers who have worked 20 years will be able to retire at the age of 50 instead of 55 under the new contract, Highsmith said.

YPBA members will receive a three percent raise this fiscal year and next year and four percent raises for the remainder of the contract. For normal officers in the department, yearly salary will immediately increase from $49,715 to $52,999, Highsmith said.

“We tried to look carefully at our surrounding towns, as well as the police forces of the other Ivies, and we are very comparable and this new contract maintains that,” Highsmith said.

Morganti said wages for University police officers are less than what the YPBA wanted — and will probably fall behind what the officers’ counterparts make in other police departments — but that pension benefits were more important.

In their first paychecks, YPBA members will also receive retroactive pay for the 3.5 percent raise they would have received last year had the contract been signed then. Retroactive pay was contingent on the police continuing to renew their contract, which prevented officers from participating in job actions. During the last contract talks, which ran from 1996 to 1998, police staged several job actions, including a “blue flu” in which 95 percent of the officers scheduled to work called in sick.

Other financial issues included YPBA proposals for longevity and shift differential pay — bonuses for officers who have been on the force more than five years and who work shifts in off hours, respectively. But with the University’s tight financial situation, Highsmith said, Yale negotiators chose to focus funds on increasing pensions and wages, and YPBA negotiators eventually withdrew the requests.

Yale negotiators also made few concessions in the area of police discipline, a major area of YPBA complaint. University officials finally agreed to let police speak with a lawyer before making a statement about an incident of deadly force. But Yale would not make concessions on how an officer’s disciplinary record could be used, Highsmith said.

“I’m not even sure that what the union wanted would have been workable or legal,” Highsmith said.

Highsmith said the University also could not satisfy the YPBA proposals for increased long-term disability compensation because it could not find an insurance company willing to underwrite the policy. Morganti said the calculations Yale used to make the insurance assessment were flawed, but that union members ran out of time to contest them before the settlement.

The new police contract will not expire until July of 2010. James Juhas, Yale’s chief negotiator, said the University will use the lull between contracts to improve communication with the union, allowing a union representative to attend University Police Chief James Perrotti’s staff meetings and creating a liaison position to deal with questions about overtime.

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