NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford Police Union President and School Committee member Christopher Cotter has asked union members not to volunteer at the request of the city or the schools until the union's contract is settled.

The message was sparked by a request last week from the police department asking if an officer could read to students at a city elementary school in March.

After an officer responded in the affirmative, Cotter in a Feb. 25 email that was provided to WBSM News suggested union members "take a stand against the City until we have a working relationship with this Mayor."

"A request by a school looking for volunteers, should be something that we don't volunteer for," he wrote.

The New Bedford Police Union's drawn-out contract negotiations with the city ultimately ended up in arbitration, out of which a decision is expected "any day now," according to Cotter.

"Yes it's for the children," Cotter's email continued. "But one thing teachers understand, if they are out of contract and the City/School Committee don't negotiate in good faith, they follow the 'work to rule' and work/volunteer for nothing outside of the expired contract!"

"Going to arbitration is not negotiating in good faith," he added.

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Cotter confirmed in a separate communication to WBSM that the email was sent, but clarified that he did not mean officers can't read to schoolchildren.

"It was a suggestion and not a demand," he explained. "If officers want to volunteer, as many do, they should do it on their own," rather than at the request of the department or the city.

"We have many officers who dedicate their own personal time to the residents and children of New Bedford," he said. "The suggestion that was made was not to stop being themselves."

"Several of these officers do their volunteering without any accolades because they choose to do it without the photo ops that the department and Mayor bring along with them," he added.

As for his reference to a "work to rule" policy — in which workers strictly follow the hours agreed in a contract to reduce output as a form of protest — he said his email "did not state that we will follow it," noting that it was simply "suggested."

Cotter stated that the union is currently awaiting the arbitrator's decision, but said he couldn't comment further on the nature of the contract dispute.

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