Retroactive raises totaling 4 percent have been awarded to members of the Amherst police union by an arbitration panel.
The panel’s ruling was clearly a compromise between the Town of Amherst and the Amherst Police Club, which represents the town’s 151 sworn police officers.
The union – which has been without a contract for more than three years – was seeking raises of 3.5 percent a year, but the panel decided to award a 2 percent raise for the year 2011 and another 2 percent for 2012.
The panel also rejected the union’s proposal to increase longevity payments by $100 at each step.
As for health insurance, the arbitration panel sided with the police union.
The town was seeking substantial changes, including premium contributions of 15 to 20 percent for current union members and as much as 50 percent for retirees. The town also wants the union to pay higher co-pays for prescription drugs, office visits and emergency room and ambulatory services.
In the end, the panel ruled that those proposed increases are not justified and “best left for future negotiations” given the complexity.
“We didn’t get what they wanted, they didn’t get what they wanted,” said Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein. “It’s a compromise.”
Police Union President Edward W. Guzdek Jr. could not be reached to comment.
The last police contract expired Dec. 31, 2010 and when the two sides could not reach a new agreement a mediator was appointed by the state Public Employment Relations Board.
Still unresolved after the mediation process, the state board designated a three-member panel to settle the dispute on wages, longevity pay and health insurance.
“The panel is fully aware of the fiscal difficulties facing the town and recognizes that any wage increase must not place an unfair burden on the town’s already burdened taxpayers,” the panel’s written decision states. “However, it is in the best interest of both the town and its taxpayers that members of its police force be fairly compensated for the difficult and often dangerous work they perform on behalf of the public.”
Amherst has budgeted money in anticipation of the arbitration ruling, but officials said they have not finished analyzing the costs to the town.
Meanwhile, Amherst and its police union are still trying to negotiate a contract for 2013 and 2014.
“Whether it’s going to go the same way as this one, with binding arbitration, remains to be seen,” Weinstein said.