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Boston’s largest police union moves toward arbitration as negotiations with Wu administration stall

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/file

A powerful Boston police union is moving toward arbitration as months of contract negotiations with Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration stalled, according to officials from both sides of the process.

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, which has 1,600 members and is the largest police union in the city, filed a request for arbitration with the state Joint Labor-Management Committee on Tuesday evening, a police source confirmed to the Globe Thursday. That committee is designed specifically to help municipalities come to terms with their police officers and firefighters or to reach agreement on procedures to resolve their disputes.

The police contract negotiations represent an acid test for Wu’s year-old administration.

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During last year’s campaign, Wu repeatedly cited collective bargaining as a tool that could and should be used to implement police reform. The Roslindale Democrat declared during the mayoral contest that she would “deliver structural changes that go beyond announcements or goals, and instead are embedded in the collective bargaining agreements with the city.”

Indeed, on Thursday Wu reiterated that stance in a statement.

“It’s unfortunate that the union is trying to go to a state agency to short-circuit the hard conversations we need to have across the negotiating table toward an agreement that works for our residents and our police officers,” she said.

Wu continued, “Our administration remains determined to continue bargaining and come to a contract that treats our officers fairly, invests in their health and well-being, and includes the reforms needed to serve our communities.”

Wu’s 11-step plan for reform released during her campaign included diverting nonviolent 911 calls to alternative response teams, capping how much overtime officers can work, and requiring officers to proactively report data — by race, ethnicity, and neighborhood — on use of force, warrantless searches and seizures, and other police stops to “enable public accountability and trust.”

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Talk of reform continues to swirl in the wake of scandals buffeting the Boston Police Department in recent years, from allegations of overtime fraud at an evidence warehouse to revelations that the department allowed an officer to continue to serve on the force for years after investigators determined in the mid-1990s he had more than likely molested a child.

Last year, then-police commissioner Dennis White was fired after decades-old domestic violence allegations against him resurfaced. White repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

The immediate next step in the arbitration process is a conference meeting where both parties argue whether there is in fact an impasse in negotiations. The city disagrees with the union’s position that there is one. Ultimately, the state committee will make the determination.

If there is an impasse, both parties submit to mandatory mediation in an attempt to settle the dispute. If that is unsuccessful, it would lead to a formal arbitration hearing, which typically can last anywhere between a week and a couple months.

During the process, both sides present their arguments and list up to five issues each that they want resolved, which typically includes wages and compensation.

A tripartite panel, including a union designee, a city designee, and a “neutral,” who essentially acts as a tiebreaker, ultimately makes the arbitration decision.

After the arbitration award comes down, the city council will vote up or down on funding it.

This week’s arbitration news was first reported by The Boston Herald.

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After negotiating with Wu officials since the summer, the union hinted last month that it would seek arbitration, saying both sides reached a stalemate in mid-September. Officials say both sides have had 10 bargaining sessions this year.

“The mayor’s office stopped negotiating and we came to a standstill, an impasse, on the topics that are on the table,” Larry Calderone, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, said at the time.

The patrolmen union’s last contract expired in June 2020, well before Wu took office, and union contract negotiations, particularly in Boston, can be prolonged affairs.

Earlier this year, Calderone said the top priorities for the union include changing the 10-year residency requirement that mandates all officers must live in the city for at least a decade; adjusting the number of days officers are expected to work in a row; and making sure the financial incentives for officers to pursue higher education are consistent across the department’s ranks.

The city, meanwhile, is pushing changes to the disciplinary process for officers involved in misconduct, as well as curbing excessive overtime by revising the policy for officers deemed medically incapacitated and reducing “union release time,” a provision in which the city pays for officers to attend collective bargaining and grievance sessions.

A key issue for both parties is the controversial question of who should work police details — additional hours officers work, often at higher pay, supervising traffic safety, usually around construction sites. Critics of the policy say civilians should be able to work details, which they argue could create much-needed job opportunities, but police officials have refused to let go of the responsibility, saying officers play a crucial public safety role.

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Ivy Scott and Emma Platoff of Globe staff contributed to this report.



Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.