By Jennifer Gomori, MAFF Editor

Woodhaven Police Detective Lt. Gary McSweeney has served in every position on the Local Union Patrol and Command boards, so he took the logical next step when he accepted a MAFF Labor Relations Specialist position.

With over two decades of labor relations experience, McSweeney has participated in six contract negotiations and at least 20 grievances. He’s also participated in mediations and arbitrations. “Negotiations directly affect my benefits and I’ve always enjoyed having a hand in that,” he said. “We’ve had a few grievances that have come up and it’s always interesting to negotiate some of that.”

Labor Relations Specialist Gary McSweeney

“I find (mediations and arbitrations) are similar to criminal cases. You have to do research,” he said. “It’s putting your case together to present to a judge or mediator.”

MAFF Labor Relations Specialist Jim Steffes encouraged McSweeney to pursue the part-time labor specialist position after learning of his upcoming retirement in December, following 28 years of service with Woodhaven PD. McSweeney will transition to a full-time MAFF staff member by January 2021.

“I had a great conversation with (Executive Director) Fred (Timpner) and (Executive Administrator) Julie (Palmquist) and I was offered the position,” McSweeney said.

“We’ve been with MAP a good 10 years,” he said of Woodhaven Command. “That’s been good to have Jim (Steffes) with us the whole time.”

Over the years, McSweeney has learned contract interpretation can be a matter of perspective. “The funniest thing about all that is what side of the table you’re on seems to determine how you interpret the language,” McSweeney said. “At the time you think you have it figured out, then later we read it one way and the City reads it another way.”“The clearer and the more unambiguous you can be the better it is for everybody,” he said. “The same thing goes for criminal cases. I put more information in my reports to take the ambiguity out of what I’m trying to say.”

Recently Steffes helped Woodhaven Command clarify a 10-year-old section of contract language. “We did that with a Letter of Understanding with Jim just last week,” McSweeney said. “The more definitive you can be the better for sure.”

As Sergeant at Arms with the Local Command Executive Board, it’s McSweeney’s job to keep the peace at meetings and maintain professional discussions. “It’s an extra person on our board in case things come up and somebody else can’t be there,” said McSweeney, who has served as Vice President, Treasurer and President of both local boards. His first union position was Secretary with Woodhaven Local Patrol Union in 1997.

McSweeney was drawn to law enforcement from a young age. “My dad told me some stories about one of his relatives, a great uncle (John McSweeney) who was a Detroit Officer back in the 20s,” he said. “That always trigged a little something I always had in me.”

After earning an associate degree in accounting from Schoolcraft College, he decided that wasn’t the career for him. “I got the degree and worked in restaurants just trying to figure out what I wanted to do.”

He graduated Wayne County Regional Police Training Academy in 1991. “Back in those days all you needed was an associate degree in anything (to attend academy). I got the degree at least and it opened the door to get into the academy,” he said.

He was hired as a part-time Huron Township Police Officer, and in March 1992, became a full-time Woodhaven Patrolman. He served as Field Training Officer, Bike Patrol Officer and Detective before being promoted to Detective Sergeant in 2004. A Detective Lieutenant since 2008, McSweeney oversees the Detective Bureau. He graduated from Eastern Michigan University School of Police Staff and Command in 2013.

The pandemic and police protests have really added to the workload of labor specialists and he’s looking forward to having more time to help members next year. “The whole corona thing is really crazy. We’ve had one or two dealings with protocols out of place and having to test (for COVID-19) as frequently as we’ve had to test. Some ask if the City can make us do that,” McSweeney said.

“The other end of the crazy is the whole anti-police movement. We (Woodhaven) have a really good community and the whole area has been really supportive. We even had one Black Lives Matter rally and we had no problems.”

McSweeney’s extensive labor experience and calm demeanor in a time of upheaval clearly displays his ability to settle disagreements with respectful dialogue – a quality that makes him a perfect fit to represent MAFF members.