Hugh McQuaid Photo
Connecticut State Police Union President Andrew Matthews (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

An arbitrator in a contract dispute between the Malloy administration and the Connecticut State Police Union recommended last week that the police keep the off-duty use of their cruisers and get a 5 percent raise over the next two fiscal years.

The union represents 1,012 troopers, sergeants, and master sergeants. It was one of two bargaining units to reject the state employee concessions package negotiated with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration in 2011. As part of those concessions, most unionized state employees took a two-year wage freeze followed by 3 percent raises in the following three years.

The state police voted to reject the wage concessions and received a 2.5 percent raise that summer. But when the police contract expired in 2012, the union and the Malloy administration reached an impasse in negotiations.

The dispute went to an arbitrator, Joel Weisblatt, who last week recommended the police get a 2 percent raise during the current year and a 3 percent raise next year. The decision, which the legislature will have the opportunity to approve or reject, also calls for allowing the troopers continue to use their cruisers while they are off duty.

In a statement, Andrew Matthews, a state police sergeant and union president, called the arbitrator’s decision “reasonable.”

“The union respects the arbitrator’s decision and the collective bargaining process and we believe that the award was fair and reasonable for both parties. The State Troopers that we represent risk their lives on a daily basis and they will continue to do so to ensure that our communities and families remain safe,” Matthews said.

But a statement from Malloy administration Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian reflected the tension between the administration and the union, who have been at odds since the police rejected the labor concessions.

“I want to first take this opportunity to again express our appreciation to the thousands of state employees who stepped up during the 2011 budget crisis, not only to help balance the state budget through concessions but to provide vital state services upon which the public depends,” Ojakian said. “On the recent state police award, we respect the collective bargaining process and will be submitting the award to the General Assembly as required by law.”

In his decision, Weisblatt called the dispute over pay raises likely the most contentious of the dozens of issues he was asked to settle.

“The state insists that the [state police] bargaining unit receive a second year of a hard freeze, as accepted by the 39 other bargaining units during the 2011 SEBAC discussions. The CSPU asserts that the other bargaining units received a general wage increase for 2013-14, making the freeze proposed by the employer unreasonable,” Weisblatt wrote.

The arbitrator ultimately sided with the union on the issue of the pay increase. Among other things, he noted that the state police did not receive the four years of layoff protection enjoyed by state employees who approved the 2011 labor agreement.

In 2011, Malloy temporarily laid off 56 of the newest troopers, prompting a lawsuit from the union over an unenforced law which required the state have a minimum of 1,248 state troopers. The law has since been repealed.

According to the arbitrator’s decision, the union attempted to have minimum staffing level language added to their contracts, but Weisblatt declined to weigh in on the issue.

The arbitrator sided with the police over an effort by the state to limit off-duty use of their police cruisers. The state had called for police contracts to prevent them from transporting civilian passengers off duty unless it was work-related.

Weisblatt agreed with the union that restricting troopers’ off-duty use of their cruisers could reduce the number of off-duty police available to respond to emergencies.

“This very long-term contract provision has proved mutually beneficial to the employees, the state, and the public at large. It shall be maintained without the proposed newly restrictive modification,” he wrote.