A newly approved salary structure for employees of the town of Stoughton will cap annual pay increases at 2.5 percent, doing away with the wide range of pay-increase formulas that came with having seven different pay structures, one for each of the town’s unions.
The compensation structure change, approved by Town Meeting June 12, is part of a “best practices” plan, broader in scope, that aims to improve services and conserve town funds, town officials said.
But with five of the town’s seven municipal unions still in the process of negotiating new three-year contracts, union leaders argue the new bylaw usurps their bargaining power.
Further straining relations at the negotiating table is the town’s hard-line stance that there will be no retroactive payments for unions that fail to settle contracts before June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The reason behind that approach was to try to put an end to the customary practice of lengthy negotiations that led to settlements close to the contracts’ end dates, resulting in the town having to issue lump retroactive payments, as well as implement the agreed-upon salary increases all at once, said John M. Anzivino, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
“You might go a couple of years where you had minor [budget] adjustments for contract obligations, and then when you settled, you had a spike,” Anzivino said. “All seven [unions] have grades and steps how they move up through the years of being there, as well as getting a straight raise. When you look at that [annual] 2 to 3 percent [raise], that’s not the only increase they were getting – if they changed grade, or step, or both, you could see fairly large [salary] increases.
“And then you’d be another year until you were back at the table again,” he added. “That was cyclical. In my opinion, you can’t keep going on like that.”
The different salary structures also created inequality for employees doing similar work, some getting a minimum annual raise of 2 percent, for instance, and others “piggy backing” on grades or steps, getting raises as high as 10 or 11 percent, Anzivino said.
The new salary structure, approved by a 63-42 vote at Town Meeting, has 12 grades, each with 10 steps, enough of a range to reclassify all municipal employees fairly, said James Kelley, the town’s human resources director.
“The commitment of the Board of Selectmen and the town manager is that no employee will lose pay; they will not take a pay cut,” said Kelley, who drafted the policy, along with a personnel bylaw that was also approved at Town Meeting by a 65-43 vote.
Two of the town’s unions, the police superior officers and the library workers, ratified their contracts agreeing to the new personnel policies and the job classification and compensation structure. The new bylaws do not apply to the teachers’ union or other School Department unions, which negotiate separately from the municipal side.
But the other five unions — police patrolmen, firefighters, public works, professional/administrative employees, and Town Hall employees — sent a letter to selectmen stating their opposition to the bylaws, arguing that they include provisions that should be negotiated.
By enacting the changes by way of a bylaw, town officials would have free rein to make changes without the need to negotiate with the unions on items that are not addressed in the current contracts, said police Officer William P. Healey, president of the town’s patrolmen’s union.
“It circumvents our current contracts that have been negotiated in good faith,” Healey said. “The idea of the bylaw is good but . . . whatever our current contracts are silent on, the bylaw takes over. There are unforeseen things that could come up. We see it as a tool that they can use whenever they can to change something without negotiating it.”
Among the changes town officials could implement without union input, for instance, is to decline to fund the 2.5 percent raises for a year, Healey said. Or, he added, to implement a drug-testing policy, which, while it would probably not be opposed by officers, should still be part of negotiations.
Fire Department Lieutenant James Curtin, who spoke against the bylaws at Town Meeting last week, said town officials “are putting the cart before the horse” by pushing for the changes before negotiating them with all the unions. Their motive, he said, is “union busting.”
“If we agree to this salary matrix and this personnel bylaw, they can revise it instead of us having a contract that we stood to for three years,” said Curtin, president of the 51-member firefighters’ union. “We could be facing changes to our rights and our benefits and signing away our collective bargaining power.”
Employees are also being asked to agree to annual performance evaluations that would determine wage increases, but union leaders said the review process has not yet been delineated.
“The bylaw is not a complete plan yet,” Curtin said.
Although the provisions have been adopted as bylaws, town officials must still bargain the changes with the remaining unions, including coming to an agreement over which employees will fall under what compensation grade. However, it remains unclear what would happen if the parties cannot reach a consensus.
Katheleen Conti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.