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Labor board rules against Pittsfield on emergency responder overtime pay

The state labor relations board ruled Wednesday the town of Pittsfield must reimburse full-time employees for overtime shifts that were given to per-diem or part-time employees, and for private detail work the town refused to schedule, violations of the full-time employees’ contract and state law.

No officials contacted yesterday could estimate how much that might cost the town, but in the ruling, the labor board noted at least $2,900 of overtime pay lost by the town’s two police sergeants. The ruling also cites $3,900 in detail income earned by the two sergeants and the police chief in three months of 2011.

The board also scolded town officials for instituting a policy prohibiting employees from speaking publicly or writing letters about town business. The selectmen reversed the policy after a month, but during that time, employees “reasonably felt coerced and intimidated,” hearing officer Karina Mozgovaya wrote.

Detail work and overtime are allowed under the employees’ contract, which voters approved at town meeting in March. Voters at the meeting also cut $125,000 from the budget, which prompted selectmen to prohibit private details and overtime for police officers, firefighters and EMTs in an effort to meet the new bottom line.

The labor board did not support the employees’ claims that changes to the police and ambulance department schedules violated their contracts.

That complaint was a major part of the employees’ concerns, but town officials already announced they’ll be reverting to the old schedule in the new year, said Pittsfield police Sgt. Rick Walters, president of the local AFT chapter.

“It was a trial period to see if there was anything to gain from it, and they found there were no favorable savings,” he said. “But we already lost a couple good employees over what I believe probably should have never happened in the first place.”

Town Administrator Paul Skowron could not be reached for comment, but Larry Konopka, the chairman of the board of selectmen said he did not want to see the town pursue an appeal.

“I will not support to appeal any of this,” he said, adding that he can’t speak for other members of the board. “I say move on . . . I don’t want to drag it out, I don’t want it to cost any more in legal fees. It’s been a long process. We’ve got good employees, and we’ve got to work together. Let’s move forward.”

The town did not appeal a ruling issued in October declaring a similar moratorium on detail work for police patrol officers was a violation of their contract.

Since that decision, relations between employees and town officials have been improving, Walters said.

“Dialogue with the union and at least the chairman of the board opened up at the last labor board hearing we had,” he said. “I’m waiting to see what will happen on this decision.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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