YPD contract sparks fight

Contract negotiations between the University administration and the Yale Police Department union erupted into a contentious battle Tuesday night.

The Executive Board of the Yale Police Benevolent Association, the YPD rank and file union, emailed the News a press release Tuesday that detailed the various disagreements with the administration — arguments that span the more than 50 bargaining sessions between the University and the YPBA that began in February 2010. In response to the union’s allegations, University Spokesman Tom Conroy disagreed with nearly all of the union’s descriptions and accounts of the bargaining disagreements.

The YPBA charges that Yale has not treated officers fairly. The union alleges that the administration did not allow crimes to be properly investigated — including, potentially, investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct — and has asked for substantial monetary givebacks from officers. The union also criticized Yale for its “stonewalling” bargaining techniques, and expressed a desire for better negotiations.

“We’re doing our job every day, and we give [Yale] 110 percent,” YPBA President and YPD officer Rich Simons said. “All we ask is that they give us the same back.”

The strong language used in the union’s press release was a sharp departure from negotiations which, until this point, had been lengthy, but relatively routine.

The release suggested that the administration’s conduct had distracted the YPD from protecting the Yale community.

“Hopefully, Yale will see fit to bargain sincerely and in earnest to resolve the outstanding issues so that its police force can concentrate on its exceedingly important mission of protecting Yale and its community,” the press release said. “After all, violent city crime is seeping through Yale’s ivy walls at an alarming rate.”

Conroy countered that crime on campus was actually down in 2010 compared to 2009 and 2008, and that the lengthy negotiations can be explained by the YPBA’s more than 70 proposals, which he said have all been discussed at length during the bargaining sessions. He added that both parties have already dealt extensively with the issues — including monetary, disability cap, and detective promotion questions — that were characterized as most important by the union representatives.

Conroy also said the union’s claim that negotiations are distracting officers from keeping Yale safe is inaccurate. Members of the union negotiating team that were scheduled to work on negotiating days were relieved of patrol duties with full pay, Conroy said. In addition to paid bargaining time, he added, the University has provided approximately 27 fully-paid caucus days to the members of the YPBA negotiating team to enable them to prepare for bargaining sessions.

The union alleges that the University has been shortcutting criminal investigations on campus by filling three vacant detective positions on a temporary ongoing basis with patrolmen who were never tested for the positions and are therefore not as effective at solving crimes.

“Yale students and members of the Yale community deserve to have crimes against them investigated by properly selected, trained and experienced investigators; not patrolmen masquerading as detectives,” the release said. “The YPBA believes Yale’s practice constitutes a disservice to the University community, especially in light of the recent heightened concern over Yale’s alleged unresponsiveness to complaints of sexual misconduct.”

Conroy said that the University surveyed other municipal police departments and determined that the 5-year threshold demanded by the YPBA is not supported by contemporary standards.

“We disagree with the YPBA’s claim that any of its union’s members are not well qualified for the police work they are performing,” he said. “The University has the utmost confidence in the professionalism of all its officers and detectives.”

Another primary concern of the union is monetary disagreement with the University — specifically less paid time off benefit for new hires, including cutting personal days from the current four to just two, eliminating bonus vacation days and introducing a phased-in vacation time schedule. The YPBA press release claimed that the diminished vacation would save the University approximately $70,000 over the life of the four-year contract.

Conroy called the union’s calculation of University savings “puzzling” because it will only apply to new officers, and the YPD only hires roughly three per year. As for the other monetary points, Conroy said the proposed YPD wage package would include solid general wage increases for all levels and general wage increases and wage adjustments for more experienced patrol officers and detectives.

With the proposed University wage increase for the first year of the contract, he said, the YPD base salaries would exceed the average base salary for University comparators such as Harvard, Penn and Brown by 27 percent.

“The University continues to seek reasonable approaches that allow it to operate effectively and competitively, even in the face of fiscal challenges,” Conroy said.

Still, the union criticized the University for seeking to limit officers injured on-the-job to earning 40 percent of a police officer’s salary in a new job in addition to a 60 percent salary replacement long term disability benefit; for an aggregate of 100 percent of a Police Officer’s salary. Earnings over 100 percent, the release said, would be deducted from the officer’s benefits on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

“Officers should not be penalized because they lost their career in defense of Yale University,” the release stated. “Virtually every municipal police department enjoys this basic protection, so why does a multi-billion dollar corporation like Yale attempt to save a few pennies in insurance premiums at the expense of its Police Officers? That’s a bad investment indeed!”

For Yale, the long-term disability issue remains an active discussion item in the negotiations, Conroy said, adding that the YPBA’s characterization of the University’s position is “inaccurate.” The University, he said, has proposed changes to the contract’s long-term disability language that it believes would benefit YPBA members.

Tuesday’s press release is not the first time the YPBA has sought public support for its negotiations, though in a less confrontational way. Around 50 YPD officers handed out roughly 1,000 paper leaflets over Parents’ Weekend in October in hopes of influencing the bargaining table.

The leaflet quoted 12 headlines from articles in the New Haven Register and the News that highlighted notable crimes such as this September’s “Gunfight Breaks Out on College Street” and last year’s “Human Remains Believed to be Annie Le Found.”

Despite this strategy of publicizing the contract process, any public statements by the YBA will not be able to alter Yale’s position in negotiations, Conroy said.

“The focus needs to be at the negotiating table, and not on public pronouncements by the YPBA, which will have no effect on the University’s bargaining efforts or positions.

Simons said he would be happy if negotiations were concluded after 70 sessions, but added that he does not foresee an immediate end in sight.

Representatives of the YPD command staff have been part of the negotiations. YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins was an active participant at the bragaining table from February 2010 until his elevation to Chief of Police last month, Conroy said.

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