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Vandergrift police pact heads to court

| Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The attorney representing Vandergrift police said he will file a court motion this week to try to force borough council members to accept a three-year police contract that they have refused to endorse.

Council members have refused to sign the contract the past three months, a delay which drew top-ranking members of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge to Monday's council meeting. They asked council to move on the issue.

But Councilman Taylor "BeBe" Troiano said council is content to go by what the courts say.

Vandergrift police officers have worked without a contract for almost 16 months. It has been the longest contract dispute in the borough in recent memory.

Unlike teachers, state law forbids police and professional firefighters from going on strike.

Police and council had been negotiating the contract, but they couldn't agree on a residency requirement. Both sides sent the residency issue to arbitration.

In January, an arbitrator ruled that police officers could live within five miles of town. This was a request of the police officers and is a break with tradition in Vandergrift, where officers always have had to live in town.

The arbitrator's decision is binding.

"For some reason they (council) just will not sign the contract," said Tom Ceraso, the attorney representing the police. "That's where we are, which is somewhat absurd."

The day of arbitration in January, there was an agreement on all other points, such as 4 percent raises and health care, according to lawyers from both sides.

Council members see it differently.

"Council was under the impression this entire contract was to be arbitrated," Troiano said. "If anything went to arbitration, then the whole contract was to be opened."

Ceraso said no council members were present for the arbitration hearing. Troiano said that's because most council members have jobs and the hearing was during the day.

The president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 39, of which Vandergrift police officers are members, decried the situation and predicted that council will lose in court "without question."

"The guys (police) are sitting there a year-and-a-half without a raise," said union President Leroy Anthony. "It's just a shame what they're doing."

Troiano said it isn't necessarily a losing battle in court.

"That's his opinion and he may be right. I've got to try to present the taxpayers with the best police protection I can," Troiano said.

The last police contract, also a three-year deal, expired Dec. 31, 2001. It gave police average annual raises of 5 percent.

The police force has eight full-time and five part-time officers.

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