A Lewiston police officer gets into his vehicle Wednesday afternoon. Lewiston police began wearing dark green shirts, as opposed to their usual blue uniform tops, to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with ongoing contract negotiations. Their previous contract expired on June 30, union officials say. Credit: CBS 13

Lewiston police have launched a protest to highlight their lack of a contract with Maine’s second largest city.

On Wednesday, police from patrol officers up to corporals exchanged their normal blue uniforms for green T-shirts to draw attention to the ongoing labor negotiations and their dissatisfaction with job conditions.

“The goal of the job action is to bring the working conditions at the police department to the attention of the greater Lewiston community,” Corey Jacques, president of the Lewiston Maine Association of Police, said in a statement.

The labor dispute is escalating in the wake of a series violent crimes earlier this summer that raised concerns among Lewiston residents and officials, and led police to increase patrols in the downtown.

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The contract under which most Lewiston police work expired June 30, although Jacques said negotiations have been going on since “the start of the year.” The police union and the city are currently in mediation with the Maine Labor Relations Board.

Jacques, a detective, said that the “alternate uniform[s]” clearly label the officers as Lewiston police and are not available for public purchase. Police bought them with their own money and none of their cost will be passed along to taxpayers, he said.

City officials are worried the green shirts may cause members of the public to not recognize local police. The city is threatening to discipline officers if the protest continues.

City leaders “recognize and support the rights of our employees to share their concerns with our residents,” but the “potential safety issues” raised by the shirt change may force them to act, said Denis D’Auteuil, deputy city administrator.

Discipline would begin as an “oral reprimand” and scale up to four-day suspensions if police persist in wearing the green shirts, according to D’Auteuil. “Obviously, we can’t suspend all police officers at the same time, so if the discipline rises to suspensions, police administration will determine when the suspension will be served,” he said.

Jacques downplayed this concern, saying police “believe that regardless of the uniform they wear, they are very well-known in the community.” He did not answer a question about how long police plan to continue the protest.

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