The New England Police Benevolent Association (NEPBA), the union representing Thetford’s two police officers, has filed a grievance against the Town.
In the 2021 budget, Thetford Town employees are responsible for 10% of their healthcare costs while the Town covers 90%. On November 15, 2021, the Selectboard, in looking forward to the 2022 budget, voted to increase employees' contribution to 12%, thereby reducing the Town's share to 88%.
The basis for this decision was ongoing negotiations with the police union. There has been discussion about increasing the share paid by employees in the police union to 16% over the next three years.
The grievance makes an obvious point: a new contract has not been ratified, which means the 2017 contract with the police union is still in effect. That contract has officers' healthcare contribution set to 10%, not 12% or 16%. When the Selectboard voted to increase employees' contributions to 12%, they violated the contract.
The Selectboard used the police union – out of convenience – as a benchmark to set the healthcare contribution for all employees, including non-union employees. Town Clerk/Treasurer Tracy Borst said in the Selectboard meeting that an increase in her contribution to 12%, as an example, along with increasing premiums and deductibles, would cost her almost $2,000 in 2022. That, in effect, represents a decrease in Tracy's total compensation package. The same would be true for other Town employees at a time when pay equity remains an open conversation.
Tracy suggested that the Selectboard not change the healthcare contribution amounts in the 2022 budget. As the grievance documents, Sharon Harkay rejected the suggestion, saying, "If we do that, we are going to have a grievance filed against us by the Police Union, which is going to cost us even more money."
The grievance goes on: Tracy pointed out that the Town had not yet signed an agreement with the union. Town Manager Bryan Gazda responded, "Well, yes and no.”
The grievance summarizes:
While the Town and NEPBA have been in negotiations and mediation for the better pat of a year, no agreement has been ratified by either party. As a result, the existing ratified terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement agree that no more than 10% of the BCBSVT Platinum plan will be passed onto employees. The vote held on November 15th, 2021 ... violates the agreement in place by providing a lower employer contribution, in turn passing a greater percentage of the premium onto employees.
The Selectboard has 14 days from the date the grievance was filed to meet with the police union, and 14 days after that to provide a response in writing. Failure to do so would result in costly arbitration.