The Supreme Judicial Court today (March 7, 2012) issued its long awaited decision in the Quinn Bill case involving the CIty of Boston and its police officers (Adams v. City of Boston, SJC – 10861). The case at issue involved a collective bargaining agreement (CBA)  provision allowing the City to reduce Quinn Bill payments in the event that the Commonwealth reduced its reimbursement to the City.  Unfortunately, the decision is particularly bad and goes beyond the contractual issue presented in the case, and may cause even bigger problems than existed before this whole mess began.

Basically, the Court has held that the Quinn Bill (GL c. 41, Sec. 108L) requires that Cities and Towns only pay 50% of the benefit due, plus whatever amount the Commonwealth contributes by way of reimbursement.  The Boston union argued that CBA provisions allowing for only 50% payments by employers were unenforceable because they conflicted with the Quinn Bill statute (which unions have argued mandates 100% payment by the employer, regardless of reimbursement). The court disagreed based on their conclusion that the CBA provisions at issue did not conflict with intent of the Quinn bill law, which they determined was that the employer was only to pay half, plus any amount they receive from the State.

Even more concerning is the fact that, in reaching its conclusion, the Court may have cleared the way for a deeper reaching by Cities and Towns into the pockets of their police officers.  Prior to this case, the majority of officers affected were those with CBA provisions allowing for reduced payments.  Based on the decision, however, it seems as if the Court is now saying that the statute itself, and not simply of the CBA language, requires only 50% payment by Towns.  This ruling will no doubt cause a ripple effect going forward in many previously unaffected communities.  Arbitration clauses and past-practice between the parties will be very important.  Each local union and affected officer should work together in the coming weeks to document evidence of how officers have been paid over the years – where 100% of Quinn benefits have been paid, it is important to put together supporting materials that may be used in the event a challenge is necessary.

At this point, those unions who have negotiated guaranteed Quinn benefit language in their CBA are in the most secure position.  The Court clearly allows for the negotiation of full benefits.  Those without such a guarantee may experience a rocky road forward, and should begin to prepare for it.  In addition to documenting past practice, it is important that you mobilize your members and supporters in your community, and impress upon people in municipal government, councilors, selectmen, Town Meeting reps, etc., how important your benefits are to you, and how unfair and damaging it will be should employers consider such drastic wage reductions.  Be sure to keep in touch with your union representatives and be prepared to take necessary steps when the time comes.


Quinn Bill Decision March 7 2012

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