Eight Boston police officers have sued the City of Boston alleging that state law supersedes collective bargaining and that the city must pay Quinn benefits.
Marissa Lang-Boston Globe
Eight Boston police officers have filed a lawsuit against the city seeking millions in bonuses for college degrees under a program that has been slashed by the Legislature.
The suit argues that the city, acting as an employer, should have to pay officers up to $10 million guaranteed by the Quinn Bill, a state law that authorizes compensation for police officers who seek higher education degrees. The plaintiffs are making the claim even though the state has severely reduced its funding for the program over recent years.
Typically, the state is responsible for paying half the bonuses guaranteed by the bill, while the city or town would pay the other half. But as the state has cut its funding, municipalities throughout the state have been forced to deal with the cutbacks. In fiscal 2010, the Legislature cut state funding for the program to $10 million, down from $50.2 million in fiscal 2009.
Some communities, including Brookline, have agreed to foot the bill without state help. Others, such as Boston, pointed to previously negotiated contracts with the police officers’ union that dictate the city’s responsibilities.
Boston, according to its contract, must pay at least 50 percent of what the Quinn Bill guarantees. The city is also required to pay whatever portion of the state’s half it can from Quinn funds that the Legislature provides.
But some officers are now claiming that those contracts are irrelevant and cannot supersede state law, which they say guarantees them 100 percent of the bonuses, regardless of the state’s financial input.
“The legal question becomes, can a collective bargaining agreement modify another provision of law known as the Quinn Bill, or can’t it?’’ said John Dunlap, Boston’s director of labor relations. “And this is playing out slowly but surely all over the entire Commonwealth.’’
Although the conditions vary from one municipality to another, legal cases have been filed throughout the Commonwealth in cities and towns such as Scituate, Mashpee, and Wrentham. None has been settled.
For the eight Boston officers who filed the suit, the question is simple.
“The Quinn statute sets forward stipends for officers and the city, their employer, isn’t paying that,’’ said Bryan Decker, the attorney representing the Boston officers, who has also filed suits for Mashpee and Wrentham police.
The lawsuit comes at a time when the city faces having to lay off more than 200 workers and may push nonunion municipal workers to take unpaid furlough days next year to relieve budget pressures.
Decker said that although he feels sympathy for the city’s dire financial condition, where the money for the bonuses comes from is not the issue.
“If the city adopts the statute, which Boston has, they have to make the payments,’’ he said.
The bill, which does not say what should be done if the Commonwealth fails to provide enough funding, stipulates officers’ bonuses based on their level of education. Those with associate’s degrees receive a 10 percent bonus, those with a bachelor’s get a 20 percent bonus, and those with a master’s receive 25 percent bonuses.
Neither the officers nor the city dispute that the contract exists between Boston and the Police Patrolmen’s Association, and they agree that if the lawsuit succeeds, the Quinn Bill would become just another way for the state to cut local aid.
“If this were successful, it would have a huge impact on our finances at a time when the city is trying to manage using what we have to ensure quality services to our residents,’’ Dot Joyce, Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s spokeswoman, said last night. “Local aid is a hot commodity. We continue to get reductions and it doesn’t seem to be improving.’’
State Senator Anthony Petruccelli, a Democrat from East Boston, said last night that regardless of how the lawsuits throughout the Commonwealth turn out, the state probably will not reroute any funding toward the Quinn Bill, which is slated to lose millions more in funding in the upcoming fiscal year.
“It’s not likely we’ll be able to put money back in that’s been cut,’’ Petruccelli said.
The City of Boston must respond to the lawsuit by mid-July.