A strike by a grocery chain's workers turned out to be quite profitable for Methuen and its police officers.
With laws requiring police to cover strikes and excessive pay rates for details mandated by contract, a long, drawn-out labor dispute can be a bonanza for a community and its police force.
That doesn't seem right, does it?
Grocery retailer Shaw's paid Methuen and its police officers nearly $860,000 over the course of a four-month strike at its Danton Drive warehouse. A few of the superior officers covering the strike earned as much as $157.20 an hour for overtime covering the picket line.
Surely Shaw's would want some security for its warehouse during a strike. But the law requires companies to pay for police to be present at strikes. And contracts between the police unions and the city set compensation for strike details far above an officer's regular pay, higher even than pay for other types of details, such as directing traffic at construction sites.
Reporter J.J. Huggins found that the standard detail rate in Methuen for patrol officers is $48 an hour and $96 an hour for Sundays, holidays and between midnight and 6 a.m. Superior officers receive $62.88 an hour for regular time and $125.76 an hour for off-hours, Sundays and holidays.
Shaw's paid officers a "regular strike rate" of $92 per hour. The "strike overtime rate" was $115 per hour. The officers in charge of the strike were paid $120.52 per hour for regular time and $150.65 per hour for overtime.
After July 1, those rates increased under the police contract. The top rate for a superior officer working overtime rose to $157.20 per hour.
The bill to Shaw's was $781,507.13 for a total of 6,906.5 hours of police coverage at the picket line. The city also charged Shaw's $78,150.72 to administer the payroll for the strike details. The total tab was $859,657.85.
The extra pay is justified because of the risks involved in covering a strike, police said.
"Strikes are inherently more dangerous and more volatile than a regular detail," Methuen police Capt. Thomas Fram told Huggins.
Isn't all police work dangerous? Haven't we been told that time and again during contract negotiations? How is watching a bunch of mostly peaceful picketers march in a circle more dangerous than chasing an armed robber down the street — something police officers bravely do for their regular pay rates?
If violence does erupt, presumably the strike detail officers would call for back-up — and be assisted by on-duty police officers earning a fraction of the detail officers' pay rate. Is that fair?
The outrageous rates paid to police on strike details cannot be justified. That's something city officials ought to take up at the next contract negotiation.