Middletown, police union agree to new 2-year contract

After 14 months of negotiations, fact-finding and conciliation, the city of Middletown and its bargaining units for police patrol officers and sergeants/lieutenants have a new two-year contract.

The deal, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, was the result of a report issued by State Employee Relations Board Conciliator Martin R. Fitts.

The city and union began negotiations in fall 2018 and reached an impasse. A fact-finder’s report was issued Aug. 9 and rejected by both parties.

The SERB conciliator was then assigned Sept. 6. Both parties attempted mediation but did not reach an agreement. A conciliation hearing was held on Oct. 29 on the outstanding contract issues, with a report issued Dec. 5.

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Police contracts are usually three years in length, but the city declined to sign off on retroactive back pay from the end of the last contract on Oct. 31, 2018. Officer Dennis Jordan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 36, said that is “a sore subject with the (union) membership” and cost officers about $4,000 and $5,000 each in lost wages.

“We worked 14 months and will not get back pay,” he said. “It’s the first time that we never got back pay. We’re working with 20 less officers … We have families and only want equal compensation.”

In the new contract, the 53 patrol officers and 10 sergeants in the bargaining units will receive a 3 percent raise on Jan. 1 and July 1 in 2020 and another 3 percent raise on Jan. 1, 2021, he said. Middletown police adjusted its organization structure but does not use the lieutenant rank. From the rank of sergeant, the next MPD rank up is major, which is a deputy chief position.

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Jordan said the 3 percent raise for each year of the contract “was a long time coming as the city’s financial condition has improved.”

In addition to not receiving retroactive pay, Jordan said he was “disappointed that it will take 12 years to top out (on wage steps). I feel this will have a detrimental effect on future hiring.”

He said MPD is already recruiting an officer who wants to come to Middletown, but is already concerned how long it will take to reach top pay when other departments are offering more money.

“We don’t want to be a training ground with officers leaving after a few years to go to a larger department for better pay,” Jordan said.

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Fitts found the city’s arguments for a 12-step wage system, up from the current six-step system, were compelling. He noted the proposed 12-step system may end up benefiting future hires onto the police force.

Fitts also said the progression is merit-based as determined by the police chief, rather than automatic by years of service, that the smaller steps may be more likely to be awarded than the larger existing ones when future budget issues might arise. The new wage system would be in effect for new hires from Nov. 1, 2019.

The conciliator found for the union on the issue concerning health insurance premiums and extending injury leave up to an additional 180 days over the current 150-day cap.

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The conciliator agreed with the city’s position to reduce the cap on accumulated compensatory time from the current 480 hours to 300 hours and to retain the current language for longevity payments.

“All in all, it’s a good contract,” Jordan said.

In a statement, Acting City Manager Susan Cohen said that “the city is pleased to have the matter resolved and appreciate the good work that the men and women in the department do for the city.”

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