stalled talks

LEWISTON — Lewiston police officers plan to wear green T-shirts while on duty to express “dissatisfaction” over stalled contract negotiations with the city, according to the leader of the union that represents patrol officers, detectives and corporals.

City officials threatened disciplinary action Wednesday after Corey Jacques, president of the local chapter of the Maine Association of Police, announced the action late Tuesday.

Jacques, a Lewiston detective, said in a prepared statement that negotiations are ongoing with the city administration. The current contract expired June 30, and the city and union are in mediation with the Maine Labor Relations Board.

Jacques said members of the police union recently voted on the job action – which mirrors one taken by Lewiston firefighters during their long contract dispute – “that will take effect in the near future barring action by the Lewiston City Council.”

The shirts are highly marked with police identifiers and a Lewiston police badge, Jacques said.

“The union body feels that this is a way to express our dissatisfaction with the situation in a respectful, visible and professional way that does not have any impact on the service we are dedicated to provide to this community,” he said. “The shirts were all bought with union money to ensure that no cost was passed on to the taxpayer.”

The union represents the patrol officers, detectives and corporals of the Lewiston Police Department. Police supervisors will continue to wear a police uniform with a collared, navy-blue, button-down shirt.

The city’s response Wednesday outlined its concerns with the alternate shirts.

“These T-shirts have not been issued or approved by the police department, and we are concerned that, since they are not consistent with our standard uniform, members of the public may not recognize individuals dressed in this manner as legitimate police officers, resulting in confusion that may result in safety issues for both the public and the officers,” the city’s statement said. “While we recognize and support the rights of our employees to make their concerns known to our residents, the potential safety issues raised by this action will leave the city with no choice but to implement the city’s system of progressive discipline.”

Denis D’Auteuil, the deputy city administrator, said the disciplinary action would be a steps involving oral reprimands, written reprimands and suspensions for each day an officer is violating the uniform policy. After three days of being in violation, suspensions can be handed down, but are only served as police administration sees fit.

“We’re not going to be suspending the entire department. Obviously, it wouldn’t be feasible,” D’Auteuil said. “The message we’re mainly concerned with is that the public understands that these are officers being asked to comply until we get this resolved.”

Jacques defended the shirts.

“The union ensured that the final product did not allow for any confusion or questioning of the identity of police officers,” he said. “These shirts were made exclusively for members of the department and are not available to the public to ensure that there is no confusion. We also recognize that regardless of the uniform our officers wear, they are very well known in the community as they are committed to the safety of the public and businesses that operate here, and regardless of the uniform most are recognized merely on sight while in public.”

The city’s statement also urged the public to recognize the out-of-uniform officers as legitimate “should the labor action continue for any period of time.”

The fire department agreed to a new contract with the city in September 2017 after more than three years of negotiations.

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