The president of the Newton Police Association says an e-mail he sent to department officials questioning the “forced” overtime assignment of two Newton officers to assist with logistics at the funeral of Fire Lieutenant Edward Walsh Jr. in Watertown early Wednesday morning “was just an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
In the e-mail — addressed to Newton Police Chief Howard Mintz, Captain Christopher Marzilli, and Lieutenant David L. MacDonald — Eddie LaValle, president of the Police Association, said the off-duty officers were scheduled or eligible to work paid details Wednesday morning. A copy of the letter was sent anonymously to the Globe.
“Now, both officers will be deprived of that opportunity due to being ordered to work overtime in another town,” the e-mail reads. It goes on to seek “full financial redress for any paid detail missed by the [officers] as a result of your order, and that compensation will be in addition to any pay the officers earn for working the forced overtime.”
“As tragic as the circumstances surrounding the funeral are,’’ LaValle wrote in the e-mail. “quite frankly I have never heard of NPA bargaining unit members being forced to work OT out of the city, and certainly not at such an early hour.”
The officers ended up working the overtime shifts and will not get extra money to make up for pay they could have had if they worked a higher-paying police detail, LaValle said.
Walsh and fellow Boston firefighter Michael R. Kennedy died while fighting a fire in a Beacon Street apartment building March 26.
LaValle said Friday that the e-mail was sent before the union was aware that the officers were being sent to Watertown after a “formal request for mutual aid,” something that is allowed under their contract.
LaValle said he put on his union president’s hat, and “played a chess game,’ . . . only ‘to elicit a response.’
“It was resolved once we got that information,” he said.
LaValle said he understands how bad it looks for the Newton police union to complain about lending a hand to help with traffic and logistics at the funeral of a firefighter from a neighboring town, who was killed in the line of duty.
But, he said, as union president he had no choice but to object to the chief making a decision to use officers scheduled for a day off to assist in another town.
“If we think the chief is doing something that violates our contract, we have to take action,” LaValle said.
“If we don’t do anything, it’s paramount to condoning it,” he said. “Labor law is ugly, I get it, believe me.”
Mintz said he understands the union position, as well, but was still disappointed when he received the e-mail.
“I was surprised by the letter,” he said. “This was a special circumstance.”
He also said he would have no problem forcing officers to work overtime in another town again if that is what he believed was the right thing to do from a public safety standpoint.
“I’d do it again,” he said.
Mintz said the department provided mutual aid in Watertown in the aftermath of last year’s Marathon bombings and will be getting help from officers from other departments at this year’s Boston Marathon.
“It’s something you’ll see more and more,” he said.
LaValle said he got a call about 9 p.m. Tuesday from one of the officers assigned to work the overtime. He said the officer was told to report to duty in Watertown the next morning at 5:30 with a marked Newton police cruiser.
While the officer was not told why he was to be in Watertown, LaValle said they assumed it would be to help with the funeral.
Despite the tragic circumstances, LaValle said he put on his union president’s hat, and “played a chess game,” threatening financial compensation only “to elicit a response.”
“It was never about the money,” he said.
While he and Mintz described the relationship between the union and management as cooperative, LaValle said that with budgets tight, money is what he believed would get the chief’s attention.
LaValle and Mintz said a rough estimate of the difference between what the officers would be paid in overtime and for a paid detail is about $6 an hour. “I have to take the emotion out of it,” LaValle said.
“Does management have the right take officers off their day off and force them to work in another town?” he asked.
“We have to be conscious of setting precedents. They can come back to haunt you,” he said.
The e-mail was sent by mail to the Globe in an envelope with a return address listing the Office of the Chief, Newton Police Department.
Mintz, however, said he has no idea who might have sought to make LaValle’s e-mail public.
“Those envelopes are floating around the station; they’re not locked up,” he said.
LaValle said he sent the e-mail with the understanding that it would not be made public.Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.