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Police, town, still at impasse
By William Henderson/ [email protected]
Thursday, December 2, 2004

Last Monday, the state Labor Relations Commission began mediating contract negotiations between the town and the 44-member police union, which has been working without a contract since July 2003.

Union leadership remained in one Town Hall room, town management met in another room, and the mediator shuffled back and forth between the feuding parties for two hours.

Town Manager Wayne Marquis said Tuesday that it was a "productive first meeting" and that a second day of mediated negotiations has been scheduled for Dec. 22.

Should mediation fail, Marquis said, the Labor Relations Commission could then begin hearings to determine what it believes to be a fair contract. Town Meeting would then be asked to fund or reject these recommendations.

But residents Peter Cullen and Gary Leston hope it doesn't take commission involvement before a contract is signed.

For two-and-a-half hours last Friday, the two men stood in front of the Danvers Square Christmas tree, holding signs that read "Contract Deserved! Danvers loves our police!" and handing out bumper-sticker magnets to passersby.

Cullen, a regional sales manager for a heating equipment company, said Tuesday that he and Hawks Oil Co. owner Leston were just trying to raise public awareness of the ongoing contract negotiations.

"I was surprised by the number of people I talked to who didn't know the police didn't have a contract," Cullen said. "Everyone we spoke to thought the police should get a contract."

However, Cullen doesn't think the town should just give in to the police union's demands. Instead, he wants the two parties to come to terms quickly and as civilly as possible.

"I don't want to imply that the town should give away the farm to the police department," Cullen said, "but the police deserve a contract. It should get done. The town needs to give them a contract."

The town-police contract deadlock stems from a disagreement about a raise for fiscal year 2004 which ended July 1. The union wanted 3 percent, but due to state aid cuts and other fiscal problems, the town said it couldn't give them a raise. For the same period, however, the town funded a nearly 3 percent raise for the town's 13 electric linemen. The town explained this raise as a method of compensating highly trained and in-demand technical employees.

Cullen said he became upset after hearing about this salary increase disparity.

"These people certainly do a good job," he said. "I don't know what would motivate someone to be a police officer, but anyone who would put on that uniform and stand in harm's way deserves a contract."

Earlier this year, police officers peaceably demonstrated during the town's annual open house urging Marquis to offer them a contract. The town later filed a labor protest with the Labor Relations Commission suggesting that police were trying to force the town to meet their contract demands by refusing to write traffic tickets.

Though Marquis said this action has so far cost the town about $175,000 dollars in lost revenue, the Labor Relations Commission sided in favor of the union as the town has no quota for the number of tickets police issue.

Police Union President Dana "Mike" Hagan will take to the air on Danvers Community Access Television on Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. for about 15 minutes to discuss with show hosts John Toomey and Selectman Keith Lucy the ongoing contract negotiations.

In a press release issued by Toomey, program content will include discussing what's best for the town. It will questions whether police should be a revenue-producing department and whether Danvers has enough police officers. Residents will be invited to call in and discuss the negotiations with Hagan.

On Tuesday, Marquis said that offering this television show goes against "the spirit of negotiations."

"What happens at the negotiating table should stay there," he said. He was unsure by press time where the police union were breaking any contract laws by participating in this television program.

Toomey said Tuesday the program will be set up as a question-and-answer session between Hagan and the community.

Though Peter Cullen hopes the town and the police union are able to agree to a contract soon, he is prepared to take to the street again and urge residents to support the police department.
 
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