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Watertown police to picket outside Town Hall tonight, protest lack of union contract

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  November 26, 2013 12:07 PM

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Watertown police officers will picket outside Town Hall before tonight's Town Council meeting to protest what they call "a lack of progress in negotiations" between their union and the town, according to a statement sent on behalf of the Watertown Police Association.

The police officers and detectives in the union have been without a contract since this spring, the statement said.

"While the town believes there is a 'one size fits all' approach to collective bargaining the association believes there is not because their duties differ than other city associations," the statement said.

Officials noted in the statement that police are charged with the heavy responsibility of keeping local citizens safe, calling upon the emotional events surrounding the marathon bombings last April.

"At no time was this more prevalent than this past April when Watertown was put on lockdown and the nation watched as Watertown police worked alongside local, state and national law enforcement to apprehend the marathon bombing terrorists," the statement said.

Watertown Town Council president Mark Sideris said the matter is mostly out of the council's hands, as negotiations are town manager Michael Driscoll's job.

"I’m not privy to the information of where we are in negotiating," Sideris said. "I have no idea what the offers are and no idea what's causing the stalemate."

Driscoll could not immediately be reached, but he emailed a brief statement late Tuesday night noting that the town has been negotiating with the union since the police patrolmen's contract ran out at the end of June.

"Notwithstanding this, the Town remains committed to reaching an agreement with the Union that is fair to the employees, the taxpayers of Watertown and the Town alike," the statement said.

Sideris noted that Driscoll updates the council regularly on contract negotiations for all city departments, but was not sure what type of action the council could take in the matter -- if council members want to take any action at all.

"I think this [tonight's picketing] is about making people aware, and this will make people on the council aware," Sideris said.

He also said he regarded the town's police officers with highest esteem, especially after the events on April 19, when the two suspected Boston Marathon terrorists allegedly sparked a gunfight with Watertown police that killed one of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and triggered a massive day-long manhunt that eventually led to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's capture.

"We had a situation in April, we’re all very well aware," Sideris said. "I respect what they did in April and what they continue to do for us every day."

Alan McDonald, the Watertown Police Association's lawyer, said the union used the example of what happened in April to fight the notion that town officials could lump negotiations for the police department in with other town departments.

"That’s an example of the dangers inherent in police work," McDonald said. "They were doing what they were supposed to do, there's no question about it. But what they're supposed to do is different than what everyone else does, so they should be treated different at the bargaining table."

McDonald said the union is pushing for time off as compensation for mandatory overtime, noting that officers typically get paid time-and-a-half for overtime but also want the choice for days off as compensation instead.

He also said that the union wants to hire more police officers, noting that budget cuts in recent years forced the department to lay off employees, leading to the remaining police officers to pick up more mandatory overtime shifts.

"Staffing continues to be a problem, and it's related to the overtime situation," McDonald said. "They lost a number of positions over the years, and as a result, more overtime is being required. They would prefer to fill the positions rather than relying on the existing staff to fill the gaps."

The picketing will begin tonight at 5:30 outside Watertown Town Hall on Main Street. The Town Council will begin their open meeting at 7:15 p.m. The meeting agenda for tonight does not feature any police-related items.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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