More than one year after negotiations began under Interim Town Manager Tom Yennerell, the Town of Thetford and the union that represents Thetford’s police officers — the New England Police Benevolent Association or NEPBA — have reached a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The new CBA is retroactive to January 1st, 2021, the date the previous agreement expired, and will remain in effect until December 31st, 2025, unless a new agreement is reached before then.
Among many aspects of police employment, the CBA addresses the number of hours in a work week.
Since the formation of the union, officers have worked both 10-hour shifts and 12-hour shifts. However, in recent years they have exclusively worked 12-hour shifts (84 hours per two-week pay period). Factoring in long-term decreases in call volume and budget constraints during the pandemic, a reduction in the work week to shifts of 10 hours (80 hours per pay period) was considered. However, the union filed a grievance which was ultimately dismissed by an arbitrator contingent on pending contract negotiations.
The new agreement still allows for either 10- or 12-hour shifts. In addition, it contains new language that dictates that the work week shall be 12 hours for any officers hired before January 1st, 2021.
Employees hired prior [to] January 1, 2021 (Officer Michael Scruggs and Officer Stuart Rogers II), shall be grandfathered to twelve (12)- hour workdays, followed by regularly scheduled days off. Grandfathered members will work a total of 84 hours per pay period, with one week consisting of thirty-six (36) scheduled hours, while the other week consists of forty-eight (48) scheduled hours. It is agreed that during this schedule, grandfathered members will be compensated at their standard rate for their scheduled shift(s). Hours worked beyond the officers regularly scheduled shift shall be calculated as overtime in accordance with section 502.
Thetford’s current officers are therefore grandfathered into 12-hour shifts, which the Town has agreed not to modify for any reason, like call volume or budget constraints. Any officers hired after January 1st, 2021, would not receive this benefit and could be assigned to either 10- or 12-hour shifts.
The agreement also covers rates of pay and the annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). Formerly, the COLA was linked to the Consumer Price Index, something that can and does fluctuate from year to year. For that reason it was customary to put a cap on how much the COLA could increase over the life of the agreement.
In the new agreement the COLA has been decoupled from changes in the Consumer Price Index, instead giving agreed-upon percent wage increases each year for the cost of living:
The Town will pay a 1.6% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for the period of January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021. The Town will pay a 1.8% COLA for the period of January 1, 2022, through December 31, 2022. For the years to follow, the Town shall pay a standardized annual 2% COLA. The adjustment shall take effect on January 1st of each year.
There are numerous other changes between the previous CBA and the one just ratified. The Town’s contribution to health benefits increased by a little over $150/month for a single-person plan and about $300 for a family plan. While the Town is trying to keep its share of benefits payments down by transferring some cost to employees, no more than 16% of health premium costs may be passed on to an employee over the duration of this CBA. Disability insurance payments have been reworked. For counseling, dental, vision, and supplemental life insurance, the NEPBA’s Health and Welfare Trust afforded the Town a less expensive option compared to traditional coverage. Recognizing that stress and trauma are involved in being a responder to accidents, altercations, and more, the town will reimburse up to $2500/yr for Vermont Responder Wellness services that include counseling.
On a practical note, the police officers will be issued with body cameras that will be used in compliance with state mandates. The terms under which the Thetford Police provide coverage to West Fairlee have been fleshed out. Last but not least, the Town already covers the expense of cleaning uniforms; however, those who launder their own uniforms will be reimbursed at a rate of $25 a week.