Lowell Police Awards Ceremony cancelled amid union threats to picket

The Lowell Police Department’s annual awards ceremony was cancelled by Police Superintendent Kenneth Lavallee amid threats by the Lowell Patrolman’s Association to boycott and picket the event. According to a report in the Lowell Sun, the union’s Executive Board voted over the weekend to convene an informational picket outside the ceremony. This was in response to the department’s proposal to equip police cruisers with global positioning systems.

In November, a Lowell officer’s cruiser was stolen as he responded to an emergency call. The stolen cruiser was then the subject of a police pursuit ending when the stolen cruiser crashed into several parked cars. City Manager Bernie Lynch contends that the stolen cruiser incident is only one of several reasons that the city wishes to implement a GPS tracking system. In a letter written to several Lowell union heads obtained by the Lowell Sun, the Sun reports LPA President Dan Kennedy accused the city of using the officer whose cruiser was stolen as “a pawn for the media with regard to the GPS issue.”

Lowell cruisers are equipped with a kill switch system designed to prevent the theft of a vehicle even if left running. Shortly after the cruiser was stolen, it had been reported that the kill switch system had been disabled.

This is not the first time the City of Lowell has battled a union over implementation of GPS. In the spring of 2009, the city activated GPS in city owned cell phones supplied to Health and Inspectional Services Department inspectors. The Merrimack Valley Employment Association, the union representing employees, fought the activation. A mediator ruled that implementation of GPS is subject to collective bargaining.

Interestingly, a Labor Relations Commission (LRC) decision in 2007 (City of Worcester, Local 495 National Association of Government Employees) dismissed a case brought by the union alleging that the city’s implementation of GPS in Department of Public Works vehicles. A public employer violates the law “when it unilaterally changes an existing condition of employment or implements a new condition of employment involving a mandatory subject of bargaining without first giving its employees’ exclusive collective bargaining representative notice and an opportunity to bargain to resolution or impasse.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Labor Relations Commission, 404 Mass. 124 (1989) “However a public employer may alter procedural mechanisms for enforcing existing work rules without bargaining, provided that the employer’s action does not change underlying conditions of employment.” Duxbury School Committee, 25 MLC 22 (1998). The LRC views the implementation of GPS as a more efficient way of ensuring that employees are complying with existing workplace rules, similar to installing cameras in the workplace.

Also, in Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, Case No. UP-04- 2671 (March 31, 2006 dismissal letter and June 23, 2006 affirmation of dismissal)  it was ruled that an employer had no obligation to bargain over the installation of a GPS device because the device was merely a more efficient and accurate way to determine whether bargaining unit members were complying with existing workplace rules.

However, where the employer uses the new technology to implement more stringent rules and performance standards, the courts generally require bargaining. City of Boston, MUP-6545 (1988); Commonwealth of Massachusetts, SUP-3829 (1993).

Contract negotiations between the city and patrolman’s union currently sit before the Joint Labor Management Committee. The officers have worked without a contract since 2007.

About Attorney John J. MacLaughlan

John MacLaughlan is Massachusetts licensed attorney as well as a Boston police officer. John is currently assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force (Gang Unit). He is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law with a concentration in Labor Law. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as well as a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. John has taught Defensive Tactics, Firearms, Use of Force, Applied Patrol Procedures, and Police Response to Active Shooters to sworn police officers and police academy recruits. Prior to becoming a Boston Police Officer, John served for 9 years as a police officer in Lowell, where he was a member of the Police Dive Team and Patrol Rifle Team.
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