Arbitrator, as Urged by Attorney Bryant, Tells Town of Stoughton and Police Chief That Overtime Language Means What It Says
In recent contract negotiations with the Town of Stoughton, the Stoughton Police Patrolmen's Association, MCOP Local 446 sought to decrease the burdens on shift officers when prisoners are taken into custody. Prisoner watch causes pressure on shifts already stretched too thin.
The Association, assisted by Attorney Patrick Bryant, initially proposed that the Town hire an additional officer every time a prisoner was taken into custody. The Town rejected that language and proposed instead that overtime be offered only when a prisoner was taken into custody and the shift staffing was at the bare minimum. The Town drafted the language.
The Union, with one slight modification, agreed to the Town's language. The contract now reads: “[P]risoner watch overtime is to be called whenever there is a prisoner and staffing is at the minimum set by the collective bargaining agreement or the Chief/designee at the beginning of the shift."
By the time time the Town Meeting voted to fund the agreement several months later, the town administration and police chief had been replaced. The new occupants basically ignored the obligations of the prisoner watch overtime language. First, town officials relied upon a draft version of the language, neglecting that the parties made a critical modification. The Town simply failed to acknowledge the incorrect language for months. When they finally acknowledged using the wrong language, the Town offered a new interpretation the Town claimed to be supported by the "spirit" of the provision (though not the language). Prisoner watch overtime, the Town claimed, was required only when staffing is at a minimum and when a prisoner was being restrained or transported to the hospital.
A neutral arbitrator rejected these defenses. She found that the language was simple and clear: the Town was required to offer overtime anytime there was a prisoner and staffing was at the shift minimum. The Town only had itself to blame for this predicament, given that it drafted the language in dispute and failed to specify the purported limitations of the policy.
The Arbitrator ordered the Town to rescind its incorrect policy, abide by the agreement, and make whole officers who lost overtime as a result of the violation.
Attorney Ian Russell drafted the brief and assisted with legal strategy.