CHATHAM – Several town employees handed out leaflets and wore placards outside of last week's special town meeting to draw attention to the fact that they've been without a contract for nearly two years.
“We just want people to know the truth,” said Chatham Municipal Employees Association President Gary J. Kaser, who also picketed outside last Tuesday's board of selectmen's meeting.
“Bottom line...this affects everyone...not only the employees,” read a flier handed out to voters as they entered the Monomoy Middle School prior to the Jan. 23 meeting. It asked residents to urge the town manager to give employees a contract “that will keep and attract more qualified and dedicated employees...folks that will stay and be proud to serve the town...we have lost too many to other municipalities...”
“All we want to do is be treated like everyone else,” Kaser said, noting that police and fire department employees have been receiving 3 percent increases annually, but over the past five years, CMEA members have received cost of living increases totaling just 1.5 percent. That increase was in the association's first, and thus far only, agreement with the town, which expired July 1, 2015.
The lack of salary increases, Kaser said, has led to “an unprecedented number of people leaving the town.” He pointed to Building Commissioner Justin Post, who recently took the building commissioner job in Wellfleet for about the same money but fewer responsibilities, and a tax collector's office employee who left for a higher-paying job in Barnstable.
“That's the biggest problem,” he said of the loss of town employees in the past few years.
Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said she could not comment on ongoing negotiations or personnel matters, but added that the town's turnover rate is “not unusual or uncommon.” Since 2012, she's hired nine of the 26 police department employees and six out the 27 fire department staff; other positions have been unfunded due to the economy, but as conditions improve those jobs will be filled. There have also been a number of retirements in recent years, she said.
“I have observed that people make career change decisions based on their own unique personal situation and the opportunities available to them,” she wrote in an email. Exit interviews are conducted with departing employees, she added.
Chatham still retains many experienced employees, Goldsmith said. Sixty percent have worked for the town for more than five years, with an unusual number with 15 years or more of experience.
“Succession planning efforts are a priority for me as I highlighted at the most recent budget summit,” Goldsmith said. New Human Resources Director Jillian Douglass will lead the effort, working with all town departments.
The CMEA includes 60 to 70 town employees, from highway and park department workers to secretaries, said Kaser, who works in the town's facilities department. Eleven department heads are includes in a subgroup under the contract. It's been “a while” since the CMEA has held contract talks with Goldsmith, said, adding that he'll continue to picket outside of the weekly selectmen's meeting until progress is made on an agreement.
“Morale's very low,” he said. “We're just going backwards.”
Goldsmith said she remains hopeful that a settlement can be reached with the CMEA. All of the town's collective bargaining agreements can be viewed on the town's website on the human resources page.