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Boston City Council approves hefty police pay raise

Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association officials congratulated one another after the City Council vote Wednesday.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association officials congratulated one another after the City Council vote Wednesday.

The Boston City Council voted Wednesday to fund an arbitrator’s award that gives police patrolmen a hefty raise, infuriating Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who said that granting the award will doom future negotiations with public safety unions.

In a 12-to-0 vote, the council agreed to fund a package that gives patrol officers a 25.4 percent pay increase over six years. The award, which the city has estimated will cost taxpayers $87 million, will help bring police officers’ base salary in line with that of firefighters, many of the councilors said.

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Even as the award was approved, there was a warning to union leaders.

“Don’t come back here, because we won’t be as receptive the next time,” said City Council President Stephen J. Murphy. “We’re trying to get you where we think you should be. But that’s it. . . . We’re not going to mortgage the city anymore.”

City Council President Stephen Murphy begrudgingly voted for the deal.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

City Council President Stephen Murphy begrudgingly voted for the deal.

Menino said the vote was disappointing and will have unfortunate consequences as the city is forced to cut other services and departments to fund the raises.

“There is no incentive for public safety unions to settle” when negotiating with the city, Menino said. “Arbitrators always give them more. Most people understand that.”

“The council really had a chance to break the cycle, but they chose not to,” Menino said. “They could have set a precedent, but they refused to do so.”

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It was the second arbitration award in four years for the city, which some councilors intimated was a sign that Menino’s administration had failed to negotiate effectively. In 2010, an arbitrator awarded the firefighters a 19 percent raise after talks with the city broke down.

Before he cast his vote, Murphy said he is hopeful that Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, who assumes office in January, will put an end to such cycles.

“Hopefully, those days are over with a new administration with a new leader who has signaled his willingness . . . to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work himself,” Murphy said.

Asked about the vote at an unrelated press conference, Walsh repeated what he said during the campaign: The raises were too high.

“If I had the opportunity to negotiate the contract, I certainly would look to negotiate” a smaller deal, Walsh said. “But the police officers in this city work hard. . . . The City Council today by a vote of 12 to 0 approved the fact that they deserve the arbitration award.”

Councilor at Large John R. Connolly, who made opposition to the award a centerpiece of his mayoral campaign, missed Wednesday’s vote. In a telephone interview, he said he was on vacation “someplace warm” and would have returned to Boston if he believed his vote could have affected the outcome.

Menino defended his financial team’s performance during negotiations with the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, saying they made it clear how much the city could afford and had offered the patrol officers a fair package.

The city’s initial proposal was 12 percent over six years – in line with other city employees – but went up to 19 percent before talks broke down. The city said the union wanted 21.5 percent over three years.

Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, thanked the councilors after the vote, calling them courageous in the face of criticism from newspaper editorial writers who criticized the award.

“Our police officers deserve to be paid the same base wage as our firefighters,” Nee said. “The system isn’t broken. We went to an independent [arbitrator]. That’s the process. . . . No one is trying to stick up taxpayers. ”

An average firefighter’s base pay is almost $15,000 more than a patrolman’s, according to the city, a disparity that can be traced, in part, back to 2001 and 2002, when firefighters saw their pay increase by 8.5 percent.

During those two years, police went without raises in exchange for the city’s adoption of the Quinn Bill, a state program that boosted the salaries of officers who further their education. The cost of the bonus program was split between the city and state.

In 2009, when the state eliminated nearly all its funding for the Quinn Bill, many police officers saw their salaries fall significantly. The city continued to pay its share of the bonuses, but refused to cover the state’s half.

Administration officials had tried to persuade the council that the union should take responsibility for its decision to forgo raises in exchange for the Quinn Bill benefits.

After the vote Wednesday, Murphy said it was not the council’s job to quibble over the past.

“It wasn’t something we should delve” into, said Murphy, who voted to adopt the Quinn Bill in 1998. “It was something we should make right.”

Councilor Charles Yancey said the council’s job was to determine whether the city could afford the award, and administration officials failed to convince them otherwise.

But, he said, he is concerned about the ripple effect the award could have on other unions. The unions representing detectives and superior officers are still negotiating contracts and historically have received the same percentage increases patrol officers get.

And firefighters are well into negotiations for their new contract, Yancey noted.

“We’re going to have to brace ourselves for the firefighters,” he said. “They may want to use the same argument.”

Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley acknowledged the award “is hard to digest,” and not just for other city employees whose salary increases are substantially lower than for those in public safety.

“It is especially hard for the many residents of this city who are barely making ends meet or who work at nonunion jobs in the private sector and haven’t seen raises in years,” she said.

But she said police officers were long overdue for a raise and the arbitrator had awarded them one that was within the city’s budget.

“I don’t want to support a race to the bottom,” Pressley said. “We have the greatest police force in the nation. They are overworked, and none of us can fully appreciate the personal sacrifices they make to keep us safe.”

Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at maria.cramer@globe.com.

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