Appeals Court Upholds Duty Of Fair Representation

Following the decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court in United Steelworkers of America v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board [], union officials have been put on notice that what they don’t know can hurt their union.

 When the City of Springfield terminated a civil service public works employee, he had the option of either appealing to the Civil Service Commission or going to arbitration through his collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  This option was spelled out in the CBA and is also part of the collective bargaining law, Chapter 150E.

The union representative explained the option to the employee and advised him that the union would handle his arbitration case but that he would need to hire his own lawyer if he wanted to go to the Civil Service Commission.  The employee nevertheless expressed a preference for challenging his discharge through civil service, rather than arbitration.  What the union representative did not know or fully understand was that civil service appeals must be filed within ten (10) business days of the termination.

 Although the union representative went ahead and prepared to file the employee’s case for arbitration, when the employee again stated he preferred the civil service route, the representative withdrew the case and did not file for arbitration.  He did not check into nor inform the employee about the 10-day filing period, which had already passed a month before.  Both the Division of Labor Relations, and now the Appeals Court have concluded that the union’s actions here constituted “inexcusable neglect” in violation of the duty of fair representation.

 While this case does extend the degree to which public sector unions in Massachusetts are held liable for knowledge of laws outside their contract, it must serve as a warning to all unions, their staff, and even elected local union leaders.  When unions collect dues from and undertake to represent employees, they are going to be required to have some degree of knowledge about the laws covering their members.

The decision in this case points out that the union representative had access to union attorneys but did not utilize that resource.  For those of you in a position of union leadership, the message is clear: If you don’t know, ask!

MassCOP Supports Suit to Protect Quinn Bill Benefits For Mass. Police Officers

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

The State Budgets To Drastically Reduce The State’s Quinn Bill Funding And Amends Language To Limit Eligibility – A Double Insult To Police Officers

We’ve known for months that the Commonwealth was considering a drastic cut to the Quinn Bill funding.  The FY2010 budget has now been signed by the Governor, and the State has appropriated only $10,000,000 to fund “its share” of Quinn Bill reimbursement, about an 80% cut.  Unfortunately, they saw fit to add insult to injury, also including language that will prevent officers from obtaining Quinn Benefits in the future. 


Underfunding of the Quinn can impact different departments differently, depending on how collective bargaining agreements treat Quinn.  The important thing to keep in mind is that the State “share” of Quinn funding is actually the State reimbursing a municipality for monies already expended.  What the State budget passed this week does is actually tell municipalities to anticipate that they will not be fully reimbursed in FY2010 for monies that they have already paid to officers for FY2009.  Under the Quinn statute, municipalities report how much they paid in the prior fiscal year to the Department of Education by September of the current year.  Thus, the request for FY09 reimbursement will not even be finalized until September, with the monies to be reimbursed in April or May of 2010.  Also, while the just passed budget would not cover the state’s full share of anticipated Quinn Bill reimbursement, at anytime between now and the end of FY2010 a supplemental appropriation could provide greater funding.  Therefore, it is premature for any city or town to be proposing reducing Quinn payments NOW based on the just passed FY2010 budget.

Even assuming that underfunding eventually occurs, unless your collective bargaining agreement provides for a reduction in a municipality’s Quinn Bill payments to officers in the case of the State not fully reimbursing, your city or town is still on the hook for paying the full statutory Quinn amount.  This is, again, because the Quinn Bill says that the officer will be paid the amounts, and the state will reimburse.  The problem with municipalities that are “on the hook” for the full statutory Quinn amount is that some claim to be considering trying to repeal the Quinn based on the possible underfunding.  Municipalities are emboldened to float such an idea based on the State taking the lead in undermining support for the Quinn bill.  This has gone so far that the Chiefs of Police have a legal advisory on their site regarding how to repeal the Quinn (This blows my mind, as the vast majority of Chiefs receive Quinn payments at a much higher level than police officers based on their much higher salaries).  It is IMPERATIVE that you keep us apprised of any efforts in your city or town to try to repeal the Quinn, and that you let us know immediately if something arises.

The projected underfunding of the Quinn in municipalities with contractual language for the city or town to be able to recoup Quinn payments because of the State budget presents a multitude of issues.  It should be noted that there is an argument to be made that any such language is unenforceable, as a collective bargaining agreement cannot technically trump the Quinn Bill statute.  However, this is an untested argument, and one that is difficult for a union to make – as the union agreed to the language.

With regards to contract language regarding Quinn, unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” answer for such municipalities, as the resolution of the issue is highly dependent on the specific language of the contract at issue.  It is highly advisable that you formulate a game plan with your parent union and/or counsel before you sit down with management to discuss the impact of possible underfunding.  For instance, in one town, the town agreed to address a past underfunding by officers surrendering earned comp time – no bargain, but at least an outcome that did not reduce paychecks.


Again, once the State had Quinn benefits on the ground, it couldn’t help but administer a swift kick to the ribs via cutting off Quinn eligibility.  The budget language reads:

[A]ny current regular full-time member of a municipal police department who has not started accumulating points pursuant to said section 108L of said chapter 41 of the General Laws, as of September 1, 2009, shall not be eligible to participate in the career incentive pay program established pursuant to said section 108L of said chapter 41 of the General Laws…

 Based on this language, the $64,000 question is what does it mean to “start accumulating points” towards a Quinn Degree?  Does it mean that an officer has to actually have some credits towards an associate’s degree to qualify, or will it suffice that an officer has started taking classes by 9/1/09 in order to be eligible to eventually get a Quinn benefit?  This is not clear.  What is clear is that anyone who starts to pursue a degree after September 1 will not be eligible for Quinn.  As a result, 8 week credit courses in public safety starting today should be VERY well attended.

The only, and I mean ONLY, slightly good news is that Officers working towards a degree will be allowed to continue to progress towards a full Masters level Quinn.  The language is:

any current regular full-time member of a municipal police department who has begun to accumulate points pursuant to said section 108L of said chapter 41 of the General Laws as of September 1, 2009 shall be allowed to accumulate the maximum number of points permissible pursuant to said section 108L of said chapter 41 of the General Laws.

Thus, if you are on your way to an Associate’s degree, you will be able to receive Quinn benefits when you reach that level, and will be able to “move up the Quinn ladder” to a Bachelors and Masters degree.  How much you’ll get for those degrees, as noted above, remains unclear.

As always, we’ll keep you up to date with developments as they occur.