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New London, police union still banging heads

By Greg Smith

Publication: The Day

Published February 10. 2014 4:00AM
Latest talks before state labor relations board fall apart

New London - Police union officials say negotiations on a host of labor-related complaints before the state Board of Labor Relations fell apart last week because the city refused to honor previous agreements.

The city, meanwhile, accused the union again of trying to mislead the public by releasing half-truths about what is going on behind closed doors.

The two sides met Thursday in an attempt to hash out some of the municipal prohibited practices complaints filed against the city, according to AFSCME Council 15 attorney Eric Brown.

Brown said the city refused to honor an agreement reached with the union in 2012 that allows officers to be granted leave and be paid while attending union business.

"Without (the agreement), disagreements cannot get resolved," Brown said. "There is clearly an anti-union animus coming directly from the Chief's office. Of the 20 unions I deal with I've never dealt with a police department as toxic as New London is right now."

But city attorney Brian Estep, in response to a press release issued by the AFSCME Local 15, said the agreement with the union was that the officers would be paid union business leave if the meeting took place during the employee's shift.

"The union now wants to change the agreement from one regarding release from duty to one that requires payment to an officer when he is not on duty," Estep said in a statement.

In the case of Thursday's meeting, union Vice President Michael Strecker was granted leave and union President Todd Lynch was told he was due to report to his regular work shift that started at 3 p.m., after the meeting.

The issues to be discussed at the meeting included a union complaint that the city has refused to release documents related to the recent firing of Officer David McElroy over information the police administration allege he released to the media about an ongoing investigation into a rape case. Police have since said the rape did not occur as first reported.

The union plans to take McElroy's case to grievance arbitration, and Brown said the city has stymied their attempts to prepare for the case by refusing to release documents related to an internal investigation. The arbitration meeting was scheduled for April 8 before the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration.

Other issues to be discussed included the city's attempt to eliminate the police K-9 program and chief's use of sick and compensatory time, Brown said.

Estep expressed frustration at the union's comments about ongoing complaints, saying answers to questions would be answered during mediation and not through press releases.

The latest issues arise even as the two sides expressed optimism and agreed last month to use an independent arbitrator to handle dozens of unresolved grievances filed by the union. Contract negotiations are also ongoing.

Lynch said there was no way the union could participate in non-binding mediation, at a cost of $2,500 to members, "knowing the city is incapable of complying with agreements it previously reached with us."

Lynch cited the city's ongoing appeal of a state Board of Mediation and Arbitration order to rehire Officer Thomas Northup. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio fired Northup in 2011 for shooting an unarmed man who had crashed a stolen ice truck during a chase.

Finizio on Friday said the union appeared "to be looking for excuses not to negotiate in good faith," and "hell bent on confrontation" when the city and police union worked together in the past. The continued use of press releases by union leadership has led to continued politicization of the process, he said, and the department as a whole suffers as a result.

"They're trying to fish for an excuse to get out of the process," Finizio said.

Finizio said up until the Northup decision, he has abided by all of the labor board decisions. In the Northup case, he said the city has a legal right to appeal to the court because it involves an officer's misuse of deadly force.

"There's a broader principle at stake here," he said.

Lynch continued his criticism.

"The chief has destroyed this department and the city attorney continues to increase his billable hours by not settling these issues. So much for the mayor's statement that New London is a pro-union town," he said.

Brown said failure to settle pending grievances will ultimately lead to more litigation.

Estep countered that the outside mediator might have helped worked through some of the grievances.

"The union now wants to end that process for the simplest of reasons, greed," Estep said.

g.smith@theday.com

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