City Ordered To Pay Union Nearly $300,000 For Breaking Promise
A State judge has ordered the City of Lynn to pay $270,000 to the Lynn Police Association and its members for violating written promises to reimburse police officers for lost benefits. The Lynn Police Association (“the union”) is Local 302 of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, AFL-CIO and is represented by attorneys from Sandulli Grace, P.C. The decision, which was issued May 15, 2007, prevents a public employer from exploiting financial hardship to reneging on negotiated agreements with public safety unions.
The case arose in 2003, when the City of Lynn encountered serious financial troubles. After intense negotiations with the City, the Union signed a memorandum of agreement in which the officers agreed to forego certain negotiated benefits for a one-year period. These voluntary give-backs saved the City about $290,000 and demonstrated the Union’s willingness to help the city weather difficult financial times. In making this arrangement, the City agreed that if it obtained any federal or state grant funds, it would pay back the benefits sacrificed by the Union. When the City obtained a $270,000 community policing grant, it refused to pay back the benefits. The Union filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement, and Arbitrator Richard Boulanger found that the City breached the memorandum of agreement when it failed to apply the grant to pay back the officers for the benefits they had sacrificed. He ordered the City to pay the Union a sum equal to the value of the community policing grant.
The City appealed the arbitration decision to the Essex Superior Court, arguing that a state law designed to rein in irresponsible spending on personnel expenses by City officials prohibited the City from complying with the award and paying the $270,000 to the Union. The City also argued that the subject matter of the grievance was a non-delegable management right and not subject to arbitration. Superior Court Judge Kathe M. Tuttman rejected every single argument. Judge Tuttman found that public policy favored upholding the arbitrator’s decision. She held that the public interest was furthered by enforcing an agreement to reimburse the Union that had sacrificed negotiated benefits in order to help the City in troubled times. Judge Tuttman wrote: “Public policy requires the court to hold the [City] accountable for the contractual obligation it undertook to reinstate benefits that the [Union] voluntarily conceded in order to accommodate the [City’s] fiscal crisis if it became possible to do so.”
Sandulli Grace Attorney Susan Horwitz represented the Union in negotiating the memorandum of agreement and successfully arbitrating the grievance. Sandulli Grace Attorney John Becker, assisted by Attorney Kevin Merritt, represented the Union in the appeal of the arbitration award at Superior Court.