An unlikely love fest at Boston City Hall
It was all smiles in place of spittle.
Battles between Boston mayors and public safety unions historically can be compared to slugfests glimpsed through a backyard fence. Punches arrive through articles in the newspaper before the two sides come to a bitter and uneasy agreement, largely focused around compensation.
In an incident that remains entrenched in local political lore, firefighters who picketed Mayor Tom Menino’s 2001 State of the City address allegedly spat on his wife. It’s still held up as an example of how ugly contract fights can get with unions that typically resist reforms.
Tuesday’s event on City Hall’s fifth floor had a decidedly different vibe from that spittle-flecked January night more than two decades ago. The head of another public safety union, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA), stood smiling with Mayor Michelle Wu, Police Commissioner Michael Cox, and other administration officials to lay out a contract agreement that had been ratified by his members.
It was a remarkable scene of contract comity between a progressive mayor who vowed to usher in big police reforms and the head of Boston’s largest police union, one with a long history of playing hardball with city leaders.
The $82.5 million contract, which must still receive approval from the City Council before going into effect, includes reforms that Wu campaigned on two years ago, such as a list of offenses that accused police officers cannot use arbitration to overturn in an effort to retain their job and high pay. Wu is asking the 13-member council to approve the contract before the end of the year.
The police union’s previous contract expired in June 2020, months into the Covid pandemic and the new contract is retroactive, and runs through June 2025.
In contrast to the three-year, $27 million firefighters contract reached last September after it was hammered out inside the Brendan Behan pub in Jamaica Plain, the five-year police contract was finalized through a virtual meeting.
One key earlier gathering between the players took place inside the UMass Club, which overlooks City Hall from the 32nd floor of One Beacon Street. “The turning point was the mayor stepping in and closing the deal,” said Larry Calderone, a 30-year police officer who currently leads 1,600-member BPPA, the city’s largest police union.
“If you want to say we were doing battle, as you saw me in the newspaper, in my statements and comments, and the city as well, we both did our jobs and at the end of the day, this is a great contract for both sides at the table,” he added.
The specter of one of Calderone’s predecessors as union chief, Patrick Rose, loomed large as Calderone and Wu spoke to reporters about the proposed reforms. Rose pleaded guilty in 2022 to child rape and sexual assault charges.
Now serving a minimum 10-year sentence, Rose was first arrested in August 2020, and files released by the Wu administration that showed how the union lobbied for Rose to return to full duty, arguing he was denied lucrative detail work and overtime. He remained on the force until 2018, despite the internal affairs department sustaining criminal allegations against him in 1996.
The list of offenses that cannot be used as a way to overturn discipline or termination if an officer has been indicted or has a sustained internal affairs finding includes roughly 30 offenses, child rape, armed robbery, hate crimes, extortion, murder among them.
“This is the first time that anything has been held out as being separate and carved out for clarity in the process, not going to arbitration,” Wu said at the City Hall press conference. “This wasn’t forced down on anyone,” she added. “This was an agreement at the table.”
Calderone said the language “clarifies that we can never have an incident like Pat Rose in the future.”
“We all have due process rights,” he said. “We will defend our members like we’re supposed to, when they’re in the right and falsely accused. But there is no room in the future for this type of behavior that we’ve had in the past.”
The contract also includes changes to the paid detail system, which deploys officers to events or construction sites that can disrupt traffic. Forty percent of the details currently go unfilled, since officers are the only eligible personnel to perform them. Details will be opened up to retired officers, Boston Housing Authority police, university police, and municipal police officers. Details will be organized by high priority, such as those at major intersections, and police officers aren’t allowed to finish a detail early and jump to another one.
Ruthzee Louijeune, the incoming city council president who has voted against police funding and grants in the past, called the contract’s changes to discipline a “rare feat.”
Some efforts to reform paid details date back to at least the Kevin White era, as his administration ran into a recalcitrant BPPA, and a City Council in the union’s thrall. If the current City Council signs off on the contract, it will have only taken 50 years to get there.