BOSTON — City Councilor John Connolly said Tuesday he would vote down an arbitration award for Boston police patrolmen, arguing that it would put the city on poor financial footing.
Connolly, one of two candidates for mayor, came out against the six-year, 25.4 percent pay hike in a press conference on City Hall Plaza.
“I’ve concluded that the City Council cannot responsibly vote to approve this contract,” he said. “It would damage the city’s long-term fiscal health and it would set a dangerous precedent for all future labor negotiations in the city.”
The announcement came two days after Connolly’s opponent, state Rep. Marty Walsh, labeled the pay raises “clearly out of line with the current economic environment” and called on the city and the patrolmen’s union to return to the bargaining table.
Walsh’s ties to the labor movement and Connolly’s position on the council, which must approve or reject the arbitration award, have made the patrolmen’s contract a high-profile issue in the mayor’s race in recent days.
The arbitration panel released its ruling, which would cost the city $80 million over six years, on Friday evening.
Mayor Thomas Menino immediately labeled the award too expensive. And he suggested the arbitration process is broken: public safety unions, he argued, have no incentive to bargain in good faith when arbitrators are all but certain to award them more than the city offers.
Walsh took a subtle dig at Menino on Friday, suggesting that, as mayor, he would leverage the trust he has developed with labor leaders to avoid arbitration.
He took more direct aim at Menino the following day, saying the mayor had left the city in an “untenable position” by allowing the contract talks to wind up before an arbitration panel.
Connolly came to Menino’s defense, saying it is the arbitration process, not the mayor, that is to blame. And he directed attention to legislation Walsh has filed on Beacon Hill that would make arbitration decisions binding, removing the veto power of city and town councils.
Connolly took up that critique again at his press conference Tuesday. “It would be devastating to the city’s financial health,” he said, of the bill. “It would mean that the council does not have the last line of review on these contracts.”
A Walsh statement issued Tuesday afternoon did not address the spat over his legislation. But over the weekend, he pointed to provisions in the bill directing the arbitrator, when making an award, to consider the city’s ability to pay and “the interests and welfare of the public.”
He said the award for police patrolmen did not meet those standards.
Connolly met with city and union officials before arriving at a decision on the contract.
“There is no question that our police officers deserve a raise — a significant one,” he said. But ultimately, he suggested, the arbitration panel failed to “strike the right balance between achieving fiscal responsibility and compensating our police officers fairly.”
The contract, he emphasized, would not “bankrupt the city.” But he said it would set a bad precedent for future labor talks — undermining the city’s long-term financial health.
Connolly, like Walsh, called on the city and the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association to return to the bargaining table.
He declined to suggest an appropriate raise, saying the negotiations would be more productive if he stayed out of them. But if the arbitration award as currently constructed comes to the City Council, Connolly said, he will vote it down.
Walsh has stopped short of urging the council to vote “no” on the contract, suggesting that such a vote would violate a basic precept of collective bargaining: that when two sides fail to reach agreement and turn to an arbitrator, that arbitrator’s ruling should stand.
In a statement Tuesday, he returned to the point, urging the city and the union to “honor the basic tenets of collective bargaining and avoid the City Council vote by jointly agreeing to resume negotiations.”
The city offered the patrolmen raises of up to 19.8 percent over six years. Accounts of the union’s pay-hike request have varied and Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, has not returned phone calls from the media — including one from WBUR Tuesday.
But Connolly said Tuesday that the patrolmen’s association sought a 31 percent pay hike.
The fight over the patrolmen’s contract — which has historically set the terms for deals with three other, smaller police unions — recalls a brutal 2010 fight over the firefighters’ contract.
An arbitrator’s award for the firefighters called for a 19.2 percent pay hike over five years. Then-council President Michael Ross threatened to reject it, forcing the two sides back to the table.
In the end, firefighters wound up with a 17 percent raise over five years. A jump on the last day of the contract brought the total to 21.5 percent.
Public safety contracts are generally richer than those of other city employees.
Thirty of the city’s public employee unions have signed off on six-year contracts with raises of just over 12 percent.