By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The union representing 17 Havre police officers has filed a complaint with the state Board of Personnel Appeals alleging the city engaged in an unfair labor practice in its handling of a dispute over who should pay the officers' health insurance increases.
The complaint says the city didn't follow through on a verbal commitment to begin paying for half of the officers' increase in health insurance premiums.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice will meet tonight at 7 with the City Council's Labor Relations Committee in City Hall to discuss the complaint.
The Montana Public Employees Association, which represents the police officers, had filed a grievance against the city on Sept. 5 after the city began taking a 45 percent health insurance premium increase out of the officers' paychecks.
The union said language in the officers' labor contract prohibits the city from doing that without reopening negotiations. The city said the contract specifically states that the city will not pay for any increase in health insurance premiums after the first year of the two-year contract. The first year of the contract ended June 30.
In October the MPEA decided to take the matter to binding arbitration. The parties are in the process of selecting an arbitrator.
According to the complaint filed with the Board of Personnel Appeals, the union alleges that on Oct. 29, Labor Relations Committee chair Jack Brandon told Tom Bivins of MPEA that the City Council had decided to pay the same contribution toward the officers' health insurance premiums that other city employee groups are receiving. That would amount to half of the 45 percent increase in premiums.
In December, the complaint says, Bivins was informed by Havre police Sgt. Bill Wilkinson, the officers' union representative, that the city had "decided not to follow through with the contribution adjustments that they had verbally committed to make."
The city's response to the complaint, signed by Brandon, says Brandon did not commit the council to paying the increase, but told Bivins on Oct. 30 that he "hoped they could resolve the issue by having the City contribute the same portion of the insurance premiums for the police employees as the City contributed for other City employees."
The response says Brandon told Bivins he could not speak for the committee or the council, and that the council would meet again on Nov. 3.
On the date of the next scheduled meeting between Brandon and Bivins, the response says, Bivins called Brandon, told him he had met with the police officers, and that the officers were "standing firm on their last proposal."
Allen "Woody" Woodwick, a member of the Havre City Council's Labor Relations Committee, said today his understanding was that the union had rejected Brandon's offer, so the proposal never came before the council.
"I don't see any merit in this," Woodwick said. "I think all the accusations are completely false. I see it as a personal attack on Jack Brandon, who has acted nothing but honorably this whole deal."
Bivins did not return calls asking for comment this morning. Wilkinson could not be reached for comment.
The complaint informing the city of the MPEA's allegations and summoning the city to a hearing before the Board of Personnel Appeals was dated Dec. 15. The city had 10 days to respond, but Havre Mayor Bob Rice told the Havre City Council on Monday night that the city was granted an extension because Rice has been out of town.