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Contract loosens city residency rules

Allows a move after 10 years

City officials announced an agreement yesterday with the 700-member Service Employees International Union that further loosens city residency requirements that were established in the 1970s to ensure that city employees live where they work.

The contract agreement, which mirrors one made last month with the 1,500-member American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, weakens residency requirements by allowing employees to move out of the city after 10 years of employment.

"I am pleased with the positive outcomes of these recent negotiations," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday in a statement. "This deal represents a fair and balanced agreement between the city and our employees."

Following an agreement on the teachers' contract last month after a threat to strike, the city now turns its attention to the police and fire unions, which have two of the largest, most costly, and most contentious contracts.

Both unions have made residency requirements a major issue in the past, and the rules will probably play into the negotiations this time.

"We're interested in hearing what they have to say," said Thomas J. Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, which returns to the bargaining table with the city today for the first time in several weeks.

In past years, Menino has held firm on the city's residency requirement. He told the Globe several months before the 2005 election that he would continue to support the law, even if it meant he would lose the endorsement of key unions.

"Residency has been good for the city," he said. "We are working hard to provide workforce housing for the people who work here."

But in union negotiations over the past few years, the requirement that employees live in Boston has slowly been loosened.

"Residency is not something that's being given away; it's something that's being negotiated," said Dot Joyce, the mayor's press secretary. "And we feel that after 10 years, our employees will choose to stay in Boston."

Samuel R. Tyler -- president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded government watchdog -- said the mayor was making a calculated decision to give away more on residency in exchange for smaller salary increases and shifting more healthcare costs to employees.

"It's recognition on the part of the administration that health insurance and salary increases have long-term cost implications," Tyler said. "That's become more important than a strict policy on residency. There's also been a recognition that it's expensive to live in Boston."

The SEIU agreement also includes a 10-percent wage increase over four years and a 5 percent increase in employee healthcare contributions. The agreement allows the city to install GPS devices in city-owned vehicles.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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