|By Katelyn Gendron|
Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM The long road to a contract settlement remains longer still as negotiations between the town and the Police Patrolmen's Union have been stalled with the cancellation of last Monday's mediation session.
Mark Poggi, president of the Police Patrolmen's Union and Gary O'Brien, vice president, said the union has halted contract negotiations until the new year, citing their inability to move forward with the Cohen administration and their confidence that the process will come to a fair and equitable end with Mayor-elect Susan Dawson.
"We just don't feel that this guy is going to bargain in our best interests," O'Brien said of negotiating with Cohen. "It just goes without saying there are hard feelings. I don't need some kid in there screaming and yelling and pounding on the tables and threatening us," he continued.
However, Mayor Richard Cohen disagreed with the union's account and said he does not understand how the Police Patrolmen's Union is having such a difficult time negotiating their contract when other unions such as the teachers and fire fighters have ratified their contracts and others have tentative agreements. Cohen maintained that his obligation is to negotiate carefully with the taxpayer's dollars, while being fair to the unions and not putting an added burden on the taxpayers.
Since the beginning of the negotiation process the union has stated that they are asking for comparable pay to that of neighboring communities. According to figures collected by Reminder Publications, a new patrolmen's base pay in Agawam is between $38 and $139 less than that of communities in the greater Springfield area.
Initial offers made by the town were for a 2.5 percent increase over the next three years, which the union wholeheartedly disagreed with, citing that it would not even cover the increased costs of health insurance. O'Brien said with the new mayor the union's wants and needs would not change as they are asking for an increase comparable to the Teacher's Union contract, which settled at 3, 4 and 3.5 percent increases over the next three years.
When asked if he believed that the Police Patrolmen's Union's $1,000 contribution to the Dawson mayoral campaign will have any effect on her negotiating strategies, O'Brien said, "I would never take advantage of her because of our contribution to her campaign. Our contribution was to get [Cohen] out and to get her in because of the way he treated people."
Dawson said all that she has promised the union is to treat them with dignity and respect during the negotiation process.
"There is nothing that thousand dollars buys for them," she said.
Dawson said she has already discussed some ideas on how to settle the contract with the Police Patrolmen's Union including rolling incentive pay, such as additional pay for shift differential, fire arms, longevity, role call and uniforms into the base pay. She added that making these monies part of the base pay would also increase retirement benefits.
Dawson said her primary concern is to settle the contract, providing the union with a fair wage so that people do not have to be "working 40 - 60 hours of overtime every two weeks just to make their bills."
Poggi and O'Brien have both previously cited their increased salaries due largely in part to holiday and overtime pay. Both said they were optimistic about sitting down at the negotiation table with Dawson and that they were interested in her ideas on how to achieve a fair wage.
Dawson said she will be sure to balance her obligations to the town and its taxpayers as well to those in the unions.
"We know we're not going to become millionaires doing this job but we just want to be treated fairly and respectfully and that's all we ask," Poggi said.
A new date for the continuation of the contract negotiation will be set after Dawson's inauguration in January, O'Brien said.