Our Opinion: State Police union is not helping its case

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In the wake of an overtime pay scam by state troopers patrolling the Massachusetts Turnpike, the state wants to institute a GPS vehicle tracking system. The State Police union is fighting this effort on procedural grounds, which is a huge mistake given the work the State Police must do to regain their credibility with taxpayers.

About 1,000 state trooper vehicles are currently equipped with the system and negotiations to expand that number have been underway for about a year. The matter became urgent when an audit revealed major discrepancies between overtime paid and overtime actually worked in Troop E, the Turnpike division, which has essentially been disbanded. That revelation and a similar scandal in Troop F, the Massachusetts Seaport division, prompted Governor Baker and State Police Colonel Kerry A. Gilpin to announce that installation of the GPS system throughout the force would begin immediately, enabling the monitoring of troopers at work.

The State Police Association of Massachusetts has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations arguing that state officials have "failed to bargain in good faith" by not collectively bargaining the GPS decision. A State Police spokesman told The Boston Globe that Colonel Gilpin will continue to implement the system "to restore public trust in the department."

The state police union surely wants something in return for agreeing to an expanded GPS system, which is how things ordinarily work in union-management negotiations. But this is not an ordinary situation. Many troopers in Troop E and Troop F were getting paid six-figures, some in the upper six-figure range, in salary and overtime, and roughly 20 troopers in the Turnpike patrol are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. The credibility of the Massachusetts State Police as upholders of the law is at stake.

While a minority of state troopers appear to have participated in pay scams, taxpayers who have been footing the bill for them can rightfully ask why innocent troopers would oppose having GPS systems in their state patrol cars. The "What are they trying to hide?" question is not one the beleaguered agency needs to hear at this point.

Unions struggle with a poor image in the U.S. which is unfortunate given all that they have accomplished over the decades. Even workers who are not in unions have benefited from the wage and benefit battles successfully waged by unions on behalf of workers. However, unions, in particular public employee unions, are criticized for being obstructionist and for putting the concerns of their members over the concerns of the taxpayers who pay for their salaries and benefits.

The State Police Association, in the wake of the pay scandals, is inviting this criticism. We urge the association to sit down with upper management, agree to the installation of GPS systems, which is likely to happen regardless, and join Colonel Gilpin and Beacon Hill in instituting necessary and overdue reform measures.


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