Once a police officer qualifies for Quinn Bill benefits, the benefits cannot be terminated if the officer is rehired or transferred after the Quinn Bill cut-off date of July 1, 2009.
Under the recent Quinn Bill amendments police officers hired after July 1, 2009 are no longer eligible to participate in the Quinn Bill benefits. Municipal employers have contended that officers eligible for the Quinn Bill who are rehired or transferred after that date lose their Quinn Bill eligibility. This issue has arisen in the following ways for officers hired before July 1, 2009 who qualified for Quinn Bill: 1) The officer resigns from the police service, but is then rehired by the same municipality after July 1, 2009; 2) The officer transfers to another department after July 1, 2009; 3) The officer is laid off and is recalled into another department after July 1, 2009.
The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, which administers the Quinn Bill, has now definitively answered that all of these rehired and transferred police officers remain eligible for Quinn Bill Benefits. In a recent communication with our office the Department has stated that it is their policy “that an approved PCIPP (Police Career Incentive Payment Policy) eligibility status is never revoked. Thus, if an approved PCIPP officer leaves employment and returns at a later date, or transfers from one department to another, the officer retains his or her PCIPP eligibility.”
Sandulli Grace Partner Bryan Decker argued yesterday before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the “Quinn bill case.” As previous posts have discussed, Decker represents a group of Boston Police Officers challenging the City of Boston’s reduction of educational benefits to officers in 2009. The case argues that the city cannot cut Quinn bill incentive payments to officers, even where the collective bargaining agreement in place allows for such a cut. Sandulli Grace union client Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association is supporting the officers. Sandulli Grace union client Massachusetts Coalition of Police filed a “friend of the court” brief also in support. The SJC should issue a decision within a few months.
Video of the oral argument has already been archived by Suffolk University Law School. You can view it here.
The decision could impact police collective bargaining statewide. Acknowledging this, the Boston Globe ran a front page story on the case on Monday, the day before the oral argument. You can read Boston Globe Police Beat Reporter Maria Cramer’s story here.
As always, we’ll keep you posted.
A Boston Police officer and a Wellesley police sergeant received good news this week when Superior Court judge Carol Ball ruled that the state Board of Higher Education had to certify their master’s degrees in criminal justice as eligible for benefits under the Quinn Bill educational incentive program. [The decision can be found here.] Boston Police Officer Miguelangelo Pires and Wellesley Sergeant Glen Gerrans, with the support of their unions, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, sued the Board of Higher Ed after the Board refused to allow them to earn Quinn Bill educational incentive benefits for their master’s degrees.
The case arose after the Legislature amended the Quinn Bill – which provides salary increases for police officers who earn advanced degrees in law and law enforcement – to tighten the academic requirements for the educational institutions where officers were earning their degrees. The new academic restrictions eliminated a number of schools from the list of eligible institutions, but a grandfather clause in the legislation stated that anyone enrolled in one of the previously-listed schools before January 1, 2004, could continue in that program and his or her degree would qualify for Quinn Bill benefits. Both Officer Pires and Sgt. Gerrans registered for classes in the Boston University master’s program in the fall of 2003, but they didn’t start classes until after January 1, 2004. After they completed their degrees in 2005, the Board of Higher Education refused to approve them. According to the Board, ‘enrolled’ meant ‘taking classes’, so in its view Pires and Gerrans weren’t enrolled in time to fall under the grandfather clause.
The officers approached their unions, who enlisted the help of Sandulli Grace attorneys Joseph Sandulli and Susan Horwitz, who attempted to negotiate with the Board of Higher Education to resolve this issue, which did not involve many officers. Ultimately, negotiations broke down and Sandulli Grace attorney John M. Becker filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pires and Gerrans against the Board of Higher Education. The officers argued that the plain meaning of ‘enrolled’ is to register and that the Board’s interpretation of enrolled as taking classes was inconsistent with common understanding and legal precedents. This week, a Superior Court judge agreed with the police officers and ruled that they were covered by the grandfather clause and so are entitled to Quinn Bill benefits for their master’s degrees. As the judge stated, “the meaning of ‘enrolled’ is limited to registration, and as such, reflects the intent of the Legislature to permit police officers who have registered for degrees in criminal justice programs certified by the Board prior to January 1, 2004 to benefit from their efforts toward obtaining further education.” Congratulations to Officer Pires and Sgt. Gerrans – their efforts toward obtaining further education are finally paying off.
On Thursday, May 27, Sandulli Grace attorney Amy Laura Davidson appeared on the WGBH show “Greater Boston” to discuss municipal health insurance and collective bargaining with Geoff Beckwith of the Mass Municipal Association. Atty. Davidson is a recognized expert in dealing with health insurance issues on behalf of her clients, including the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (MCOP) and the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association.
On the show, she vigorously defended municipal unions against the blanket accusation that they are deaf to the pleas of cities and towns that they are being overwhelmed by health insurance costs. The shibboleth of the “$5 Co-Pay” was held out as the norm in the public sector. Atty. Davidson spoke the truth: unions in dozens of municipalities have made significant concessions in health care negotiations, including significant increases in co-pays and deductibles. Contrary to public perception fed by ill-informed media, the $5 co-pay is an “anomaly,” Atty. Davidson explained. She argued, forcefully but intelligently, against the MMA bill currently pending at the Legislature which would eliminate bargaining over health plan design and allow municipalities to unilaterally change health benefits. As Ms. Davidson eloquently stated: “Health insurance essentially is wages.” If employers can just unilaterally make employees pay more to go to a doctor or hospital without having to negotiate with their unions, we might as well just let them reduce employees’ wages without bargaining.
Those who watch the show will note one bogus argument advanced by Mr. Beckwith: that there is something unique about the requirement that cities and towns in Massachusetts bargain with unions over the structure of the health insurance plans that cover their employees. While it is true that Massachusetts state employees and federal employees do not have the right to negotiate over their health insurance plans, those workers make up a very small percentage of the total workforce. In fact, the more than 7,000,000 workers in private sector unions throughout the country have virtually exactly the same collective bargaining rights as Massachusetts municipal employees: to bargain over the design of their health insurance plans.
Here’s a link to the show:
It is an unfortunate reality of the modern workplace that public employees can and do become permanently disabled simply by doing their job. Police officers and firefighters, in particular, who respond to the call of duty can suddenly find themselves unable to work a job that has been a lifelong passion.
Thankfully, Massachusetts law recognizes the great sacrifice made by these public employees. Chapter 32, Section 7 of Massachusetts General Laws provides Accidental Disability Retirement for persons who sustain a career-ending injury in their work. This statutory safety net provides 72 percent of an employee’s regular compensation. For years, the retirement allowance was based upon compensation earned by the disabled employee on the date of injury or the compensation earned during the 12 months prior to retirement. (Contrary to myths fueled by the media, overtime and traffic details are not considered part of compensation and therefore are excluded from public employee retirement calculations).
Last year, the Massachusetts legislature reformed the public employee disability retirement laws. This reform was, in part, an effort to curb the practice of disabled employees being temporarily promoted on the date of injury. The reform, however, eliminated the option of calculating disability retirement allowance on the compensation for 12 months prior to retirement. The unintended consequence of this change was that disability retirees faced a dramatic reduction in their pay because of the time that can elapse between the date of injury and the date of retirement (Delay can be caused by an employee’s efforts to return to work or exhaust all medical improvement options, or by bureaucratic delay involved in processing a disability retirement application).
Sandulli Grace, PC, was very vocal in its criticisms of this aspect of the law. Thankfully, the Massachusetts legislature recognized the problem and restored the longstanding option of using last 12 months of compensation for the basis of calculating retirement allowance. (The base compensation refers to the employee’s permanent position and not any temporary position the employee may have had at the time of retirement). This amendment is retroactive to July 1, 2009. Disabled public employees who retired after July 1, 2009 should contact their retirement board to confirm that you are receiving the intended benefits of this change.
A memo explaining the new change by the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission is attached.
Download PERAC memo
In a case that could have wide-ranging effect on the compensation paid to Massachusetts Police Officers, the Massachusetts Coalition of Police assigned its law firm of Sandulli Grace, PC, to file suit today in Barnstable Court on behalf of five Mashpee police officers in order to prohibit the Town of Mashpee from reducing Quinn Bill payments. If successful, the suit could benefit all educated police officers in the Massachusetts communities that adopted the Quinn Bill. Sandulli Grace attorneys Bryan Decker and Patrick Bryant filed the suit.
MassCOP President Hugh Cameron said, “The Quinn Bill is based on the idea that Massachusetts strengthens our public safety by strengthening the education of its officers. Thanks to the Quinn Bill, communities throughout the Commonwealth are protected and served by police officers who bring their higher education to bear on every call on every shift. The Town of Mashpee’s reduction of wages sacrifices the wages of the people who place themselves at risk for all of us. The actions by Mashpee and other municipalities in Massachusetts defeat the letter and spirit of the Quinn Bill.”
According to the lawsuit filed today, the Town of Mashpee adopted Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 41, §108L, known popularly as the Quinn Bill, several years ago. The law states that officers “shall … be granted base salary increase[s]” of 10% for an Associate’s degree, 20% for a Bachelors degree, and 25% for a Masters degree. Municipalities that adopted the Quinn Bill are eligible for reimbursement of 50 percent of the educational incentive paid to police officers.
Beginning July 1, 2009, Mashpee drastically cut the compensation paid to its educated Police Officers. The Town justified its sudden reduction in wages upon the State’s failure to fully fund its reimbursement during Fiscal Year 2009 as well as the Town’s estimate that the reimbursement will not be fully funded in Fiscal Year 2010. The Town further relied upon language in the collective bargaining agreement, which allows for the docking of employee pay for underfunded Quinn Bill reimbursements. (This contract language was negotiated prior to MassCOP’s affiliation with the local).
The lawsuit advocated by MassCOP seeks to stop the Town from slashing the pay of educated police officers or asking officers to return monies already paid to them. The lawsuit asserts that the Quinn Bill mandates towns and cities to pay the educational incentives as specified in the Law and prohibits collective bargaining language that allows for any reduction or recoupment of these educational incentives.
Read the Complaint