6:21 PM Eastern - Monday, October 17, 2011

SEIU Member Leadership Profile: Officer Rachel Thomas #default

Rachel-Thomas-IBPO-L364.jpgBorn and raised in the city she now serves, Rachel Thomas is a 29-year veteran of the Springfield, Massachusetts Police Department. She's also the secretary of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers' Local 364 (part of SEIU's Local 5000) and the chair of the IBPO's national advisory committee--a role she considers both a priority and an honor.

"I'm very honored to be a member of the IBPO National Advisory Committee," said Thomas. "I'm able to speak for police officers from my own local, and make a difference for all of the members of the IBPO."

Thomas first got involved with Local 364 about 20 years ago, when a colleague was considering running for another office and encouraged her to run for the position of secretary. "I liked being involved and consider myself a well organized person, so I decided to give it a go," said Thomas, who has spent most of the years since then as an officer in Local 364.

Over two decades of union activism, Thomas has seen first-hand what a difference a strong union can make in the lives of officers. Several years ago, then-Governor Mitt Romney put Springfield's operations into the hands of a control board when the city faced a dire financial crisis. The board tried to ignore its commitments under the contract and civil service laws, insisting that they were irrelevant.

"Had we not had a strong union, Springfield police officers could have lost their contract right out from under them during the Romney administration," said Thomas. "It was through the action of our union and its lobbyists that stopped that from happening."

The struggles continue as the city fights the latest economic downturn, but Thomas and her local have made strides wherever possible. For example, they went through difficult negotiations for the right to join the state employee health insurance program so that they could maintain sufficient health care coverage at a reasonable cost. And one of her proudest achievements affects Thomas and her officers every day: their current contract.

"It was a home run," said Thomas. "At the time we negotiated it, we were tentative about agreeing to a contract that ran so much longer than our previous contracts. Doing so, however, we obtained a raise in each year, which I don't believe would have been the case if we'd had to negotiate new contracts during a time of continued cuts in state aid."

Last year, Governor Deval Patrick appointed Thomas to one of three police positions on the Massachusetts Joint Labor-Management Committee. The JLMC oversees collective bargaining negotiations between municipalities and their police officers and firefighters, using mediation and other voluntary forms of dispute resolution to reach negotiated settlements to disputes over the terms of collective bargaining agreements. The JLMC, said Thomas, has been an asset for those whose negotiations have come to an impasse and, since being appointed the first-ever female chair on the committee, she has been deeply involved in the committee's decision-making.

Thomas and the members of her local are also quite active in their community, taking part in community and charity events throughout the year. "A bunch of us just raised nearly $1,500 for Special Olympics one night at the local Chili's. We had a blast interacting with customers and got to help some great local kids," Thomas bragged. The local is also forming its own charitable fund to raise donations for the "Learn to Skate" program, in which Springfield police officers teach local children how to ice skate.

As if all that weren't enough to keep her busy, Thomas is an accomplished cook, baker and outdoorswoman. She and her husband of over 30 years, Phil, raised sons Brian and Scott and now enjoy time with their grandson, Gabriel.

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