An independent arbitrator has ordered the city to give Boston police detectives a considerable raise — 28.4 percent over six years — a decision that counsel for Mayor Martin J. Walsh called “disappointing” and fiscal watchdogs say will embolden other public safety unions to bargain for more.
The award, which the city estimated will cost $23 million, follows a controversial patrolmen’s award issued by an arbitrator in 2013 that included a 25.4 percent pay hike in a package projected to cost taxpayers $87 million.
“A raise appearing to be in excess of 28 percent is very disappointing, significantly higher than what the other three police unions received for this contract period, and almost double what the civilian unions received during the same time,” Joshua Segal, the administration’s attorney during the contract negotiation said in a statement Thursday. “We are reviewing the arbitrator’s award and the city’s options.”
Brian Black, president of the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society, called the award a “fair” deal for the city and the 280 members who will benefit.
“It’s just about reasonableness,” Black said in a phone interview. “We’re the same rank, perform similar functions, sometimes the same [functions] as patrolmen.”
The city argued that the practice historically has been to not give the detectives an overall greater percentage increase than the patrolmen because “then the other police units will subsequently return to the bargaining table seeking the additional percentage increment creating a type of whipsaw effect,” arbitrator Lawrence T. Holden Jr. wrote in his decision.
But Holden said the city failed to back up its claim and he issued two separate awards that cover fiscal 2011 through 2016. Detectives will receive retroactive increases of 2.5 percent in fiscal 2011, 1 percent in 2012 and in 2013, and 3 percent per year for the remaining three years.
The detectives also will receive accumulated retroactive overtime pay for fiscal 2014 through 2016.
The award also calls for the city to contribute more in so-called Quinn payments. The Quinn Bill was a state program that raised the salaries of officers who obtain additional education; the cost was split between the city and state. The state eliminated nearly all of its Quinn funding in 2009, and the salaries of many police officers dropped significantly.
Holden ordered the city to cover 65 percent of Quinn payments in fiscal 2014, rising to 75 percent in 2016, with the remaining 25 percent converted to a flat dollar amount that would be based on the salary of an individual detective.
Holden said the award issued is $300,000 less than the deal the city offered detectives in May 2014.
The contract expires June 30. The city and the detectives will return to the bargaining table in April.
Last year, the Walsh administration touted the deals he negotiated with the unions representing superior officers and superior detectives, noting neither had to be settled by an arbitrator.
Walsh declined to comment Thursday about the arbitrator’s award and whether he intends to appeal.
The award will go before the City Council for approval next year.
City Councilor Michelle Wu, who is expected to be the next council president, said members will closely examine the award. As of Thursday she and other members had not yet seen it.
“We take very seriously our role in watching over our taxpayer dollars, but we really need to read all of the details to have an opinion one way or the other,” Wu said.
Annissa Essaibi George, an incoming city councilor, said she supports binding arbitration but was unable to comment on the award. Most council members did not return calls for comment; others also had not reviewed the award.
Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said arbitration awards are becoming too expensive for the city.
“It just seems like an unending cycle that aggregates the toll of public safety spending,” Tyler said. “The city can’t keep doing this trying to reach parity. At some point it won’t be possible for the city to support and maintain basic services.”
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