EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 15, 2013

Tension mounts in Plaistow contract stalemate

Union files unfair labor practice charges

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — PLAISTOW — The union representing Plaistow police employees has filed unfair labor practice charges against the town, claiming the police chief and town manager have hindered efforts to negotiate a new contract.

Teamsters Local 633 accuses police Chief Stephen Savage and Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald of thwarting attempts to end a four-year contract stalemate.

Dissatisfaction within the department has resulted in approximately 40 percent turnover in the past few years, the union contends, but Fitzgerald said yesterday that claim is “exaggerated.”

The union filed two unfair labor practice charges with the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board, which dismissed one of the charges Wednesday. An appeal is being filed. A hearing on the second charge is scheduled for Dec. 10.

Jeff Padellaro, business agent for the Teamsters, accuses Savage of “direct dealing” with employees on contract issues in violation of collective bargaining laws.

He also said Fitzgerald has prevented a contract from being negotiated since becoming town manager in 2008. The 21 employees have been without a contract since 2010 and have not received a raise since 2009, Padellaro said.

“We have been telling the town manager, who is responsible for overseeing these negotiations, that the town has spent multiple times over what the cost of a fair contract would be,” Padellaro said. “Since this administration took over shortly before the expiration of the (last) contract, there has been a large turnover in police personnel.”

The complaint filed with the PELRB alleges that union representatives within the police department were unfairly targeted.

Savage called a union steward a “cancer and an infection that needs to be dealt with,” the complaint said.

The unidentified steward, a master patrolman, was later fired for not responding to a call to which he was never dispatched, the complaint said. The union also alleges some employees didn’t receive the health benefits to which they were entitled.

Savage could not be reached yesterday for comment, but Fitzgerald spoke on the town’s behalf.

“We take these issues very seriously,” he said. “We certainly deny a number of the allegations.”

Fitzgerald said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss contractual issues other than to say negotiations have been “challenging.”

He praised the work of police department employees, but said the town had to keep its taxpayers in mind when negotiating contracts.

In its response to the Teamsters’ complaints, the town defends Savage and denies it treated union representatives unfairly. The town admits terminating the union steward, but not for failing to respond to a call. The specific reasons are not stated.

Those are among the issues to be discussed during the hearing Dec. 10. The charge dismissed Wednesday, with little explanation, accused the town of not bargaining in good faith and targeting union representatives.

Padellaro said at least six officers have left the department in the last few years for jobs in towns including Atkinson and Salem because they no longer wanted to work for Plaistow.

Fitzgerald acknowledged several officers have left Plaistow for other jobs, but not because there is a morale problem.

PELRB executive director Douglas Ingersoll could not be reached yesterday for comment.