On Friday afternoon, the Waltham Police Patrol Officers and Superior Officers, both locals of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, the largest police union in New England, held an informational picket at Waltham City Hall. Their message was simple: after more than three years since the last contract expired and more than four years without a raise, we want a contract. Continue reading
On June 20, highly respected Arbitrator Michael Ryan issued a decision overturning the discharge of Boston Police Officer David Williams. All of the facts are meticulously set out in the decision’s 44 pages but are briefly summarized here.
On March 16, 2009, Michael O’Brien was a Middlesex Deputy Sheriff/Corrections Officer coming off his Providence bachelor party and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. After spending up to five hours at the Black Rose, a noted Fanueil Hall bar, he and two buddies headed to the North End, where one of them lived. While trying to back his car down Hanover Street (the major two-way thoroughfare through the densely populated commercial area), his friend crossed the double-yellow line into a double-parked BMW. The BMW owner called 911 as he saw O’Brien drive off in the car that had just struck his. His recorded 911 comments included observations that O’Brien’s group were “drunk” and that although he was a “federal agent,” they were not in any trouble.
When Officers David Williams and Diep Nguyen responded to the call, their efforts to simply have the parties exchange papers were met by the seeming drunken hostility of O’Brien and his friends. O’Brien held out his cell phone while yelling at the officers to do their jobs. Inexplicably, he insisted the officers investigate the struck driver’s claims of federal agency. Told that he could record them all he wanted but not in the middle of Hanover Street, O’Brien continued standing in the busy street. When Officer Nguyen attempted to place him under arrest, O’Brien’s resistance caused Officer Williams, across the street writing a citation in his parked cruiser, to come to his fellow officer’s assistance. Surrounded by O’Brien’s two friends, one of whom had to be physically pushed away from the officers, Williams made an “officer in trouble” call just as Nguyen was about to do the same. Other officers arrived and O’Brien was placed under arrest.
The next business day, O’Brien, charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on a police officer (Nguyen), appeared in the Boston Municipal Court without notice to any of the arresting officers. He plead not guilty and all charges were dismissed a month later after he performed 50 hours of community service.
O’Brien eventually filed a lawsuit against the officers and the city, claiming, among other allegations, that he had been nearly choked to death that night by Officer Williams. That night, he had made no complaint of having been choked to the lieutenant who carefully inspected him at booking nor to the EMT’s who transferred him to the hospital. Early on, he retained prominent civil rights attorney Howard Friedman. As it turned out, for him, that was his best decision of all.
Three days after the incident, O’Brien filed an on-line complaint against the officers who arrested and subdued him. The BPD’s vaunted Internal Affairs Division (“IAD”) conducted no investigation. In September 2009, Atty. Friedman filed a complaint in Federal District Court against the City, Nguyen, Williams, and four other officers. Friedman also initiated a second Internal Affairs complaint with the same allegations. Still no investigation by the crack IAD unit. In January, 2010, Friedman wrote a letter to Internal Affairs castigating them for failing to investigate the complaint. In April 2010, IAD sprang into action, interviewing Williams and Nguyen for the first time about the incident that had occurred over a year earlier. Shortly after receiving another irate letter from Atty. Friedman, BPD placed Williams on paid administrative leave. IAD reassigned the case to another Lt. Det., who re-interviewed the officers, spent 20 minutes with BPD Dr. Kristian Arnold, and concluded that (a) Williams had choked O’Brien and (b) Williams had lied about it.
Following internal hearings before a Deputy Superintendent appointed by Commissioner Davis at which O’Brien, Williams, and Nguyen testified, Davis fired Williams in January 2012. Shortly thereafter, the City paid O’Brien $1.4 million. Williams had received unwanted notoriety after his discharge in the celebrated beating of Police Officer Michael Cox had been overturned by a different arbitrator in 2005.
After hearing three days of testimony from all of the key witnesses, including O’Brien, Williams, and Nguyen, Arbitrator Ryan concluded:
After examining all of the evidence with great care, it is clear to me that O’Brien’s account of the incident was not truthful. If the officers became aggressive, and there is no doubt that they did, it was because the behavior of O’Brien and his friends warranted it. I do not believe that the grievant used excessive force, or that he choked or strangled O’Brien. He fully complied with Department Rule 304, Section 2, by using only the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to overcome O’Brien’s resistance to arrest.
He found further:
Since the grievant handled the incident of March 16, 2009, appropriately and did not use excessive force on O’Brien, it follows that he was not guilty of untruthfulness during the IAD investigation. There was no just cause for his termination.
The Arbitrator ordered Williams reinstated with back pay. In addition, finding no explanation from the BPD for placing Williams on administrative leave 17 months after the incident, and relying on arbitration precedents between the parties, he ordered that Williams be made whole for the extra work (paid details and overtime) he was not allowed to earn while he had been on administrative leave.
The decision itself was not surprising. Arbitrators, especially experienced and nationally prominent ones such as Michael Ryan, decide the cases based on the evidence before them, not on how they will be received by police commissioners or their friends in the media. For that matter, Arbitrator Ryan, who has been hearing cases between the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and the City/BPD for more than 15 years, has decided many cases against the BPPA, including terminations and major suspensions. He does his job: he calls them as he sees them.
What followed this decision is unfortunate, if predictable. To Commissioner Davis, who attended none of the hearings, either at the BPD or the arbitration, the decision was “outrageous.” Boston Globe editorial writer and columnist Lawrence Harmon chimed in with his column entitled, “Do arbitrators give violent cops a pass?” I spent more than a few hours on the phone with Mr. Harmon trying to educate him with facts and analysis about the vagaries, biases, and shortcomings of the BPD internal affairs process. When he called me just before submitting his story for a final quote and I asked him why the information I had given him was largely omitted from his analysis, he replied that what I gave him was “inside baseball” that nobody cared about. I was reminded of the adage, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
The real story, largely ignored by the press, is why did the City pay $1.4 million to someone a neutral factfinder, after hearing all the evidence, pronounced “untruthful.” The Police Commissioner likes to trumpet his campaign of intolerance for untruthfulness among police officers. No one disagrees; police officers charged with the power to deny people their liberty must be truthful. But what about civilians who lie in order to line their pockets with enormous sums of money from the City?
Continuing its insistence on ignoring reality, the City/BPD has now filed an appeal of the arbitration decision in the Superior Court. Its court complaint cloaks its disagreement with the arbitration decision in the dross of “contravening the City’s inherent and non-delegable authority, the Police Commissioner’s statutory right to manage and administer the Police Department…and a clearly established and defined public policy.” Although unstated, the “clearly established and defined public policy” being violated is apparently that whatever Commissioner Davis says, goes. The complaint flaunts black letter law. Arbitration awards are appealable on very narrow grounds; disagreement with the arbitrator’s factual findings is decidedly not one of them.
This case could not have proceeded this far without the unflinching support of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, and in particular its President Tom Nee and Vice President Ron MacGillivray. In addition to my work in the case, Attorney Kenneth Anderson of Byrne & Drechsler, LLP, represented Officer Williams from the initial internal affairs interviews through the last day of arbitration and assisted in the Union’s arbitration brief with his usual combination of astute preparation, dogged litigation skills, and unfailingly gentlemanly demeanor.
I, at least, hold out hope that someone in authority will see the futility of ignoring the obvious, return Officer Williams to his rightful place on the police force, and allow him to finish his career with the dignity and respect he deserves.
 I also served as counsel for the BPPA in that arbitration case, written by a different, but equally prominent, arbitrator, Lawrence Holden.
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican state legislature virtually eliminated collective bargaining for public sector workers two years ago, they largely spared police and fire unions. But now, it appears that the honeymoon is over. In a story in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel entitled “Scott Walker opens door – then downplays – limiting public safety unions,” reporter Patrick Marley wrote,
Two and a half years after mostly sparing police officers and firefighters from his union restrictions, Gov. Scott Walker said this week he is open to the idea of limiting their ability to collectively bargain.
The article goes on to point out that some, but not all, of the public safety unions, endorsed Walker, apparently because he spared them from the onerous limitations he placed on their fellow public workers.
The moral of this story is clear. When the rights of any group of workers are successfully eroded, it is only a matter of time before the same strategy is applied to other groups. The concept is embodied in a slogan adopted by many American trade unions: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
In a landmark ruling with national and even international implications, the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission upheld the appeals of six former Boston Police Officers who had been fired solely because a California drug testing company (Psychemedics Corporation) claimed their hair samples showed they had ingested cocaine. The 132 page decision, written by Commissioner Paul Stein, concluded that hair testing lacks the necessary reliability to be the sole basis for terminating a tenured Massachusetts civil servant:
The present state of hair testing for drugs of abuse, while potentially useful in clinical assessment settings, and in the context of child custody, criminal probation and pre-employment hiring decisions, does not meet the standard of reliability necessary to be routinely used as the sole grounds to terminate a tenured public employee under just cause standards governing civil service employees under Massachusetts law. [page 107]
Unfortunately, four other officers’ appeals were denied, although those cases stand to be appealed. All appellants were represented by Sandulli Grace Attorneys Alan Shapiro and Jennifer Rubin and with the unflinching and steadfast support of their union, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA).
As thoroughly laid out in this sweeping and studiously crafted decision, the BPPA and the City of Boston/Boston Police Department, both desirous of maintaining a “zero-tolerance” policy for drug use, negotiated an annual hair testing policy, starting in 1999. Because random urine testing was constitutionally impermissible under state law, the City/BPD sought an alternative testing modality. At the time, the Union and the City/BPD believed the claims of Psychemedics Corporation that its hair tests could successfully ferret out illegal drug use going back months, as opposed to the hours or days of urine tests. Urine testing was then, as it is now, the only approved testing method under the Mandatory Guidelines (covering approximately 10 million workers) of the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program,
Under the hair testing protocol implemented by the Police Department, it collected a hair sample from every officer once a year, within 30 days of his/her birthday. The sample was flown to the Psychemedics laboratory in California, where it was subjected to various laboratory tests and analyses, and then pronounced either positive or negative for various illegal drugs, including cocaine. If deemed positive, the officer was given the opportunity to submit to Psychemedics a second hair sample, which was run through the same tests. Unbeknownst to the Union (and probably, at least initially, the BPD), the second sample was declared a positive confirmation of the original sample if it had only 40% of the cocaine levels of the first sample. Later, Psychemedics lowered the positive confirmation of the second (“safety net”) test to 4% of the level found in the original sample.
If an officer could not explain to a physician hired by the Department why s/he had tested positive (for cocaine there was virtually no explanation that would be accepted, since it is rarely utilized by physicians and other “caine” drugs, such as xylocaine or lidocaine, do not trigger cocaine positives), the officer was faced with the choice of termination or a 45-day suspension, mandatory drug counseling, and years of random urinalysis. A second positive, either in a urine test or another hair test, resulted in termination.
From 1999 through 2006, approximately 90 officers tested positive for illegal drugs, most for cocaine. Many accepted the 45-day suspensions and continued their careers. Some accepted the suspensions and were later terminated for a second positive test. Some, including 7 of the 10 officers involved in this case, refused to accept the suspensions for something they insisted they did not do and were terminated.
A key problem with hair testing that had only begun to emerge when BPD began this program is that hair absorbs certain substances, in particular cocaine, not just from internal consumption but also from external exposure. While companies such as Psychemedics have developed elaborate laboratory procedures and mathematical formulae to eliminate the effects of external exposure, because the quantities at issue are so infinitesimal, there has yet to develop a scientific verification of their efficacy. In other words, a positive hair test for cocaine can indicate external, atmospheric exposure, not necessarily ingestion. The quantities being measured are on the scale of measuring one second over a period of 27 years. In these quantities, scientific studies have shown measurable levels of cocaine in 92% of U.S. paper currency in five Ohio cities and on the school desks of elementary school children in both urban and suburban schools in the Washington D.C. area.
The BPPA’s initial attempts at challenging these decisions were largely unsuccessful. Various arbitrators rejected challenges to the Psychemedics testing methodologies, including the use of the lowered standards for the “safety net test.” But in 2003, in a decision written by former Commissioner Daniel Henderson, the Civil Service Commission overturned the discharge of an officer who refused to accept the 45-day suspension after Psychemedics claimed that his hair test positively confirmed that he had ingested cocaine. Although the case was reversed and remanded in 2004 by a Superior Court judge on procedural grounds, several of Commissioner Henderson’s holdings proved prophetic, including the lowered safety net standard and the lack of acceptance in the scientific community for hair testing as the sole determinant of illegal drug ingestion.
In addition, many of the civil service appellants were also plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit contending that hair-testing is racially biased. There, they were supported by the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO), and represented by attorneys from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the Boston Bar Association, Inc., and by attorneys and staff at a large Boston law firm, Bingham McCutcheon. Although the federal case was rejected at the trial level based on statistical analysis (an appeal is pending), the work of these attorneys provided valuable discovery that we were able to utilize in the civil service appeals.
By the time the Commission began the 18 days of hearing in October 2010, additional scientific evidence and other developments further challenged the efficacy of hair testing as a “stand alone” employment test. Scientific studies done under grants by the U.S. Department of Justice caused the FBI to suspend using hair testing in all cases, except criminal cases involving children. In addition, in 2008, after four years of study, the federal agency charged with overseeing the federal workplace drug programs rejected hair testing, leaving only urine testing as the approved testing modality.
Of enormous assistance to Attorneys Shapiro and Rubin at Sandulli Grace were two expert witnesses: Dr. Douglas Rollins and Dr. J. Michael Walsh. Dr. Rollins, in addition to publishing numerous scientific papers regarding the incorporation of drugs into hair, had served as the medical review officer for drug testing in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Dr. Walsh served in both the Reagan and Clinton administrations and was an important contributor to the design and implementation of the federal workplace drug program. Dr. Walsh’s company has since gone on to consult with numerous industries, including the National Football League. Both experts challenged the BPD’s use of hair testing as a “stand alone” measurement. Neither believe that hair testing has yet advanced to the level that, solely based on a hair test, an employer can conclusively state that an employee has ingested cocaine and proceed to fire him/her. The Commission gave great weight to the testimony of these two scientists.
Supporting the BPD’s hair tests were Dr. Thomas Cairns, an employee of Psychemedics, and Dr. Leo Kadehjian, “a biochemist, with no direct drug testing experience or research credentials.” (Decision at ¶131). Although the decision did approvingly cite some of Dr. Kadehjian’s testimony, Commissioner Stein flatly rejected some of this expert’s opinions:
Where, however, the Appellants showed that the underlying source material on which Dr. Kadehjian relied did not support his opinions, I give those particular opinions no weight. For example, Dr. Kadehjian opined in his initial expert report that the SAMHSA “published” procedures for hair drug testing that, although not “formally implemented”, have “recognized the utility of hair as a suitable specimen . . . with the same level of confidence that has been applied to the use of urine”. The evidence showed that this opinion was hyperbole, at best, and possibly could be called misleading. Similarly, Dr. Kadehjian opined that “the United Nations has recognized the role of hair drug testing . . . and has provided hair testing guidelines.” In fact, the role that the UN recognized for hair drug testing was as “a complementary test for urinalysis”, not as a stand-alone test. Dr. Kadehjian?s outdated opinions about the scientific consensus CE as a distinct metabolic marker of ingestion were noted in the findings above on that subject. (¶132)
Sifting through the scientific evidence with extraordinary precision and intellectual energy, Commissioner Stein eventually concluded that while the Psychemedics hair tests could provide some evidence of illegal drug use, sole reliance on them as the basis for discharge does not meet the requisite “just cause” standard of the civil service law.
This finding has enormous consequences. To date, we are unaware of any other case where the reliability of hair testing has been challenged, examined and litigated as it was in this case. Psychemedics Corporation undoubtedly understood what was at stake, since a mini-phalanx of its executives and attorneys faithfully attended the hearings.
Where the decision breaks down is in the final result. After finding that these hair tests did not suffice to establish just cause for discharge, the Commissioner parsed the extremely skimpy record to decide who should be believed and who not believed with respect to ingesting cocaine. While a penetrating investigation might have been a valid inquiry by the BPD when it fired these officers between six and eleven years ago, it had never been done. The BPD stipulated that the only reason it fired these officers, many of whom had spotless personnel records, some of which included medals for heroism, were the Psychemedics test results.
Asked on the stand to speculate why they may have tested positive, some appellants recited situations where they had come into contact with cocaine, either at work or other locations. In finding some of these explanations not credible, the Commission essentially was forcing the appellants to prove their innocence rather than insisting the BPD prove just cause. There is no reliable scientific article which has yet to study, let alone pinpoint, the specific mechanisms by which cocaine permeates human hair. Just as we know that cigarette smokers contract lung cancer in far greater percentages than non-smokers, we also know that some non-smokers also get lung cancer. So too, we do not know why some react more than others to environmental cocaine exposure. We know that darker hair, with more melanin, theoretically will bind more with cocaine, but this has received little study.
Therefore, a strong argument can be mounted that where the BPD relied solely on these hair tests, and these hair tests do not scientifically warrant such reliance, the BPD lacked just cause to terminate any of the appellants.
For the six successful appellants, there is also the limited remedy, extending back only to the beginning of the hearings. If allowed to stand, this remedy would not only deprive these officers of lost earnings but also years of pension service credit – all due to no fault of their own.
While there will undoubtedly be further litigation, it is vital to recognize what has been accomplished. Ten former officers, with the vital support of the BPPA, their union, stood up to not only their employer but also a multi-million dollar company, and six of them won. Here is an excerpt from the Psychemedics web site:
Over the years, Psychemedics has performed millions [sic] employment-related hair tests, not including tests used in research, quality assurance, or other internal purposes. At Psychemedics, hair testing is not a sideline or one of many clinical offerings. Psychemedics specializes in hair analysis. We pioneered and developed hair testing in the workplace.
For over 25 years, Psychemedics has also successfully defended hair test results in lawsuits, union arbitrations, and government agency hearings. Our test has been routinely upheld in employment cases, where the test results generally stand alone as proof of drug use, as opposed to family court and child custody situations where the test result is usually only part of a number of pieces of evidence.
Now, there is one government agency hearing where the test results were not upheld as stand alone proof of drug use.
Based on many recent Civil Service decisions and, even more poignantly, the courts’ reaction to those decisions, many of us concluded that challenging a bypass promotional case was about as promising as hitting a trifecta at your local race track.  That perception, however, may no longer be accurate. A 60 page decision by Commissioner Paul Stein in September in the case of Smyth v. City of Quincy, not only upheld a bypass appeal for the position of Quincy Fire Chief, but also removed the appointee from the permanent position and, in very specific terms, ordered the city how to go about properly selecting the next chief from the three highest scores on the certification. When the city appealed to Superior Court to enjoin the Commission’s decision from taking effect, the judge, in a decision issued on November 21, refused to intervene on the grounds that the city was likely to lose its appeal.
By way of background, civil service law, all contained in Mass. General Laws Chapter 31, compels that promotions be made from among the three highest scoring applicants on a certification (a list of candidates with passing scores ranked numerically by the state Human Resources Division [HRD]). If the appointing authority, in the case of Quincy Fire, the mayor, selects a candidate other than one with the highest score, s/he must supply the reasons for doing so. The higher scoring candidates may then lodge bypass appeals with the Civil Service Commission.
The Civil Service decision concluded that Quincy’s mayor was predisposed to appointing a politically well-placed candidate and that his proffered rationale was a smokescreen to obfuscate his predisposition. The case contains an excellent primer, with abundant citations, on what an appellant needs to show in order to prevail in a bypass appeal.
The remedy is particularly noteworthy. Ordering that the permanent appointment be rescinded is rare but not unique. Prescribing how the city must make the next appointment in order to remove any bias and instill the process with integrity is virtually unprecedented. Commissioner Stein has set out a blueprint for what appointing authorities must do to insulate themselves from bypass challenges, and a road map for future appellants to follow in asserting such challenges. The specific requirements (quoted directly from the decision) are:
(a) candidate interviews must be conducted by a panel to be selected and arranged by an independent outside individual or firm that has experience in the review and selection of public safety and/or senior public sector personnel in Massachusetts;
(b) neither the outside individual or firm, nor any member of the interview panel shall have any present or prior contractual, employment or familial relationship to the Mayor of Quincy or to any of the candidates;
(c) the candidates will be provided, also reasonably in advance of the interview, a description of the criteria by which their credentials and their interview performance will be evaluated;
(d) the evaluation criteria shall be established by the independent individual or firm selected to arrange the interviews, and shall contain such procedures and criteria that the outside individual or firm deems appropriate in consideration of a candidate for Fire Chief, provided that Quincy may contribute its input to the independent individual or firm as to any aspect of the interview process, including evaluation criteria, as it deems appropriate, and further provided that any communications between Quincy and the independent individual or firm shall be disclosed to each of the candidates;
(e) the interview panel shall render a written report of the interviews which shall be made available to each of the candidates and to the public; and
(f) the written report shall include a specific rating of each candidate?s performance in each component or question during the interview, an overall ranking of the candidates, and a description of any unique positive and/or negative qualities or experience noted about any of the candidates.
Attorney Betsy Ehrenberg is to be highly commended for her excellent work in not only attaining this favorable precedent but also in successfully defending it, at least through this initial phase, in the courts.
It is also hoped that the specificity of the remedy will send a message to the public safety community: the days of perverting what is supposed to be a merit-based promotional system based on who someone is rather than what the person knows and has done are over.
 In the interest of full disclosure, I did hit one on my first visit to Saratoga, however, subsequent visits have confirmed it was beginner’s, or dumb, luck.
While, for the Beatles, eight days a week may not have been enough to show they cared, the Appeals Court has said that it is enough for a five-day suspension.
Civil Service law, Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 31, § 41, allows a police or fire chief to suspend a tenured civil servant “for just cause for a period of five days or less without a hearing prior to such suspension.” [emphasis added]. The statute goes on: “Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays shall not be counted in the computation of any period of time specified in this section.” The employee is forced to serve the suspension but may (within 48 hours) appeal to the appointing authority for a hearing on whether the chief did indeed have just cause for the punishment. To suspend employees for more than five days or to demote or terminate them, the appointing authority must first hold a hearing before issuing those greater disciplines.
When the Andover fire chief issued a four-day suspension to a Lt. Thornton, he ordered that the four days be served on the lieutenant’s next four scheduled 24-hour shifts, spanning a 16 day period. Not surprisingly, the Civil Service Commission, by a 3-2 vote in an opinion written by Chairman Bowman, had no problem with allowing the chief to take away two weeks’ pay and prevent the lieutenant from working overtime or details for 16 days, all as part of a four-day suspension without a hearing.
This punitive interpretation was first overturned by the Superior Court and then, last week, by the Appeals Court. In Thornton v. Civil Service Commission, Justice Rubin, writing for a 2-1 majority of the three-judge panel, made this Solomonic observation: “Whatever a suspension of ‘a period of five days or less’ is, it is not a suspension under which an employee may not work for sixteen days.”
The Appeals Court decided that the five-day suspension period means five consecutive calendar days, excluding weekends and holidays. A five-day suspension could run from Monday through Friday, Tuesday through the next Monday (remember weekends don’t count), etc. The decision has the practical effect of letting the chief, for the most part, take away a week’s pay and prevent the employee from working overtime/details for the same week. This does raise the question: If weekends and holidays don’t count as part of the suspension period, why should employees also be suspended on those days and prohibited from performing extra work on them?
While the decision is not perfect, it is a reasonable attempt at applying a statute obviously geared to people who work Monday through Friday, nine to five, to the “four and two” and “24 hour” shifts, which did not become prevalent until long after 1978, when the statutory language was written.
One problematic aspect of the Appeals Court decision is language permitting the chief to begin the suspension on a particular day of his/her choosing. An overreaching chief could, therefore, begin an alleged miscreant’s five-day suspension on Tuesday, October 4. Because of the weekend/holiday exclusion and the October 10 Columbus Day holiday, it could run through Tuesday, October 11. If the employee were returning to his/her “four-and-two” on the 4th, it could actually cost six days’ pay and, depending on the contract, the holiday pay also.
Suffice it to say that the Appeals Court has reduced a “five-day suspension” from sixteen to, at most, eight days. It’s at least a step in the right direction
In an article published yesterday by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, entitled “The Shameful Attack on Public Employees,” Professor Reich rebuts the most common myths about public workers. Included among these myths are:
- Public employees earn more than private sector employees
- Public sector pensions are crippling the country
- Bargaining rights for public employees have caused state deficits to explode
None of these statements withstand factual scrutiny yet they are repeated by many politicians and business leaders as if they were gospel. The question is “Why?”
Professor Reich convincingly argues that this attempt at pitting public v. private sector workers masks what is really happening in our country:
- “[C]orporate executive pay … continues to rise as corporate profits soar”
- Wall Street bonuses are higher than before taxpayers bailed out the financial industry
- Hedge-fund and private-equity managers continue to pay 15% federal tax, while the rest of us pay close to or more than double that
- “[T]he top 1 percent is now raking in a bigger share of national income than at any time since 1928, and paying at a lower tax rate.”
As Reich summarizes the situation:
Don’t get me wrong. When times are tough, public employees should have to make the same sacrifices as everyone else. And they are right now. Pay has been frozen for federal workers, and for many state workers across the country as well.
But isn’t it curious that when it comes to sacrifice, Republicans don’t include the richest people in America? To the contrary, they insist the rich should sacrifice even less, enjoying even larger tax cuts that expand public-sector deficits. That means fewer public services, and even more pressure on the wages and benefits of public employees.
It’s only average workers – both in the public and the private sectors – who are being called upon to sacrifice.
The Big Lie is a strategy that has been employed by some political figures over the last century to win over public opinion in an attempt at seizing power. The Nazis in Germany and Joe McCarthy here in the 1950’s are prime examples. As someone once said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” We need to make the current crop of political leaders accountable for what they say.
Alan H. Shapiro
Sandulli Grace, P.C.
As he has for many years, Atty. Sandulli will be teaching a course at the Labor Guild’s School of Labor Relations. Classes run in two sessions on Monday evenings from September 13 through November 15, from 7:00 – 9:30 p.m. in Weymouth.
Joe’s class, entitled “Labor Strategies,” focuses on how to coordinate legal action, political action, public relations and negotiations to deal effectively on the range of labor-management issues in both public and private sectors. The class will also feature guest speakers who are actively involved in these respective endeavors.
The Labor Guild is a longstanding program of the Boston Archdiocese to educate “men and women members of unions, management, and others who are interested in furthering sound labor-management relations.” In addition to Atty. Sandulli’s course, there are a number of other valuable offerings in the upcoming fall period.
Joseph Sandulli was the 2008 winner of the prestigious Cushing-Gavin Award for his nearly four decades of outstanding service on behalf of labor unions to the labor-management community.
For more information, please go to the Guild’s web site or call 781-340-7887.
Attorney Alan Shapiro will be speaking on June 2, 2010, at a conference at the Boston office of the American Arbitration Association on the subject of Brief Writing and Closing Arguments. The program flyer is available here.
Attorney Shapiro, whose clients include the Massachusetts Coalition of Police and the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, has been representing labor unions in arbitration hearings, for more than 25 years.
Atty. Shapiro said, “I am honored to be invited by the AAA to speak at their program. I hope I can help other practitioners by sharing what I have learned from practicing in this field for more than a quarter of a decade.”
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: