The Boston City Council unanimously approved an arbitration award Wednesday that will grant police detectives a retroactive raise of nearly 29 percent, covering the past six years.
Detectives packed the City Council Chamber for the vote, which occurred after councilors expressed misgivings about the size of the raise but said fairness dictated passage. In approving the contract, councilors spurned the advice of a fiscal watchdog, who urged them to reject the award to stop a cycle of escalating arbitration payouts for police and firefighters.
Ultimately, councilors relied on a precedent they set themselves: In 2013, the council overwhelmingly approved a similarly sized arbitration award for police patrol officers. They said the detectives deserved nothing less.
“It is unfair to hold the 277 members of this bargaining unit and their families accountable for identical awards that the . . . other police unions have received in the last six years,” said Councilor Ayanna Pressley.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration disputed that detectives would be receiving the same raise as patrol officers, whose pay increased 25 percent. The administration said it offered detectives what amounted to a 25 percent raise, but the arbitration award will boost their pay to 29 percent. Other city workers received pay increases of 12 percent over the same six years.
Brian Black, president of the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society, reiterated after the vote that it only appeared detectives were getting a better deal than patrol officers. Detectives are paid more because of their longevity and advanced degrees, which skew the percentage higher. “This award was no more than the patrolmen’s award, which they already passed in 2013,” Black said. “We feel it was a fair and equitable arrangement.”
According to payroll data, the average police detective was paid $156,000 in 2015. That figure includes nearly $40,000 in overtime and $10,000 for construction details, which are paid largely by private companies.
After contract negotiations failed, an arbitrator ruled in December that detectives deserved a 29 percent salary increase from July 2010 to June 2016. The union and the Walsh administration are required to support the arbitrator’s award.
State law leaves final approval to the City Council, which could have rejected the contract and sent both sides back to the bargaining table. After approving the raise, councilors unanimously endorsed a letter to the mayor and unions warning that “escalating public safety salary increases threaten the long-term financial stability of the City of Boston.”
“We are looking for a different paradigm moving forward,” City Council President Michelle Wu said.
The letter urged the administration and all public safety unions to sit down together to negotiate fair contracts. Traditionally, different unions have played off each other to push wages and benefits higher.
Councilors also lamented the growing pay disparity between public safety unions and other city employees. The letter stated that contracts should be settled at the negotiating table and warned that the council “will look with a very critical eye at any future arbitration award.”
The council made similar overtures in 2013, when it passed the patrol officers’ arbitration award.
A fiscal watchdog, Samuel R. Tyler of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said he thought the council’s letter would have as much impact as the tough talk in 2013.
“You can get a better deal if you go to arbitration,” said Tyler, whose organization is funded by business and nonprofit organizations. “When the unions are trying to get the best deals for themselves, I don’t think the letter is going to have much of an impact, especially three or four years from now.”Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.