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Leverett police form a union
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
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LEVERETT - The town's nine-man police force has officially formed a union - the Leverett Police Association, union president Ralph Mroz said yesterday.

All nine officers voted unanimously last month in a mail ballot election coordinated by the state Labor Relations Commission, Mroz said. The vote was the last step in forming a union - a project that began last fall.

Eight of this small town's nine police officers are part time, working from several times a week to several times a month, Mroz said. Only Officer-in-charge Kelson Ting is full time. The town does not have a chief at the moment.

Asked why officers chose to form a union after so many years without one, Mroz discounted two obvious choices: salary and town officials' recent proposal to share a police chief with neighboring Shutesbury. Officers are not upset with their salary of about $13 an hour, he said. They do oppose the shared-chief model, but this was not their main reason for forming a union.

Officers began to see there was a need to communicate to the town with more structure, Mroz said.

"It helps us be more organized and speak with one voice," he said.

Issues of greater concern include access to health insurance and disability insurance, Mroz said. Most of the officers have other jobs, he said. They worry about what would happen if they are disabled by this part-time job, and are unable to work at their other job.

They would like access to the town's group rates for health insurance, he said, and would expect to pay for it.

The experience of former Chief Frederick Bixby was an eye opener for the other officers, Mroz said. Bixby went out on extended disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder from several incidents on the job. Over time, he ended up fighting selectmen in court over his continued disability. He was eventually forced to retire at an early age.

"Certainly, the unwarranted trouble the town put him through was an issue," he said.

Leverett's police union will not be affiliated with larger unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, because those unions cannot afford to represent such small towns, Mroz said he was told. Instead, the Leverett union will pay staff from that organization independently for assistance.

Mroz said the local union has already submitted to selectmen the union's proposal for a contract. If accepted, he said, he does not believe it would add anything significant to the town budget.

Neither selectmen nor their assistant could be reached for comment.
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