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Bow police push to unionize

Bow police employees will vote tomorrow to form a collective bargaining unit, a quiet move that some town officials question as unnecessary.

The union would comprise 20 full- and part-time employees, including police and master patrol officers, dispatchers and a detective. It would not include supervisory positions: the chief of police, the police lieutenant and sergeant, a communications supervisor and an administrative assistant. Municipal departments in New Hampshire must have at least 10 eligible employees to form a union.

A representative from the proposed unit did not respond to requests for comment about the reasons behind the effort.

If approved, the group would be represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the largest union federation in the country. It would be the first department in Bow other than education to be part of a union.

The department’s original petition, filed Jan. 29, was contested by the town on the grounds that it included sergeants, master patrol officers and the communications supervisor – positions that Town Manager David Stack said involve disciplinary and evaluative action, which could create conflicts of interest during future bargaining periods.

Stack noted that in some towns sergeants don’t have as many supervisory duties as in Bow, and in those cases would be more appropriately suited to be included in such a unit.

A hearing to settle the dispute convened March 5, but Stack said the two sides were able to reach a compromise before it even began, in which sergeants and the communications supervisor would be excluded from the unit but the master patrol officers would remain part of it.

But even with the agreement, some town officials question the move.

“I have nothing against unions,” said board of selectmen Chairman Harry Judd, who recalled at least two occasions in his 11-year tenure as a selectman that members in the police department have tried but failed to pass a similar petition. “I just think it’s not necessary in this case.”

Judd said that members of the department are appreciated and compensated accordingly.

Employees in the department are paid hourly and receive yearly wage increases of 2.5 percent through the first nine years, as well as cost-of-living adjustments (which was a 1.3 percent increase this year). Patrol officers, for instance, earn between $20.73 and $25.22 per hour, while master
patrol officers and the town’s detective make between $21.77 and $26.49 per hour. Dispatchers earn between $17.04 and $20.73. Full-time employees also receive health, dental, disability and life insurance and retirement benefits.

“My own view is the board and the budget committee value our town employees very, very highly,” said Selectman Jack Crisp. “Our (department of public works), our firefighters, our road crews – we have a great group and we want to do everything we can within our financial means for those folks. All of them.”

Crisp added that he didn’t know whether the petition would pass but would respect its outcome.

If the union petition passes, the town’s process for making payroll decisions will change slightly because the unit will bargain separately from its other departments for everything from work conditions to benefits and disciplinary matters, Stack said. The town will also vote on their contract in an individual warrant article, rather than lumped into the overall operating budget.

Though there are more than a hundred municipal unions registered in the state, Bow would be one of only a handful of police departments organized in the region. Goffstown, Hillsboro, Concord, Franklin, Pittsfield and Weare have police unions. Doug Ingersoll, executive director of the state labor relations board, which certifies unions, said he hasn’t noticed a significant change recently in the rate of public departments in the state petitioning to join a union.

The election will take place between 1 and 3 p.m. at the police station on
Robinson Road, and is open only to non-probationary officers and personnel who would be represented by the union. A simple majority is needed for the union to be approved.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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