PLAISTOW — For the first time in nearly four years, the town and the union representing Plaistow police employees have agreed to a new labor contract.
The two sides ratified an agreement last week. It will now go on the warrant at Town Meeting in March. The department’s 21 employees have been without a contract since 2010.
“What’s important is that the town management has found a good middle ground with employees who deserve to be supported,” police Chief Stephen Savage said yesterday.
The agreement ends contentious negotiations between the two sides. During the stalemate, Jeff Padellaro, business agent for Teamsters Local 633, had accused Savage and Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald of hindering contract negotiations.
“They were difficult at times,” Padellaro said. “But everyone always had the best interest of the town and the voters in mind.”
The contract will last through 2017. Employees would receive a 2 percent raise in each year of the contract, their first raise since 2009.
“Anytime you can have labor peace, it’s beneficial to both parties,” Padellaro said. “The patrol unit worked long and hard in order to achieve a very fair contract.”
During the negotiations, the union filed two unfair labor practice charges with the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board. The complaints said that union representatives in the department were unfairly targeted and that some employees did not get their entitled health benefits. Both charges are still in the process of being heard.
Savage also acknowledged the difficulty of the negotiations.
“It was painful for both sides,” Savage said. “It ends up being great for the taxpayers and the employees.”
Savage said the raise was a fair amount.
“Two percent is pretty standard,” he said. “We found a balance which is good for both parties.”
Fitzgerald said the contract would save at least $57,000 through the length of the contract.
“We’re estimating that 40 percent of the wage adjustment will be funded through health care and other changes in how the earned time will be calculated,” he said. “A lot has to be said for the men and women of the department who voted to support that.”
Fitzgerald said the town is currently responsible for 90 percent of police employees’ health care premiums. That would go down to 87 percent in April and 85 percent next year.
Savage said the health insurance reduction was a fair one.
“To expect 90 percent is unreasonable,” Savage said. “We were really an anomaly. A lot of places are down to 80 percent, so where we ended up is what we could expect.”
Selectmen’s Chairman Robert Gray said this was one of his biggest challenges in his nine years as selectman.
“It’s been one of the most difficult things we’ve had to do,” Gray said. “We spent a significant amount of hours getting to this agreement. We had our best offer on the table for almost close to a year.”
The two sides also agreed to limit the amount of time off that employees can accrue.
“We were having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to employees who were buying back their accrued time,” Fitzgerald said. “We changed the buyout from biannually to annually. We won’t have to calculate and run the numbers and deal with the administrative responsibility of that process, which is significant saving to town.”
Savage said he was pleased the two sides ended up finding a good balance.
“This creates a long period of stability for the department,” he said. “Employees can count on a reasonable wage and taxpayers know early on what it will cost them.”