WEST HAVEN, CT – Center District fire fighters have settled a new union contract that significantly changes shift schedules and requires random drug testing, while also providing a 5 percent raise over five years.
The 50 Center District members of the West Haven Professional Firefighters Union Local #1198 ratified the five-year pact Sept. 10, while the district’s Board of Fire Commissioners approved it Sept. 20. Since the last three-year contract expired June 30, 2011, the new one will be retroactive to July 1, 2011, according to Chief James O’Brien.
O’Brien and union President John Perry, a firefighter within the department, said Thursday both sides felt the new terms are fair and look out for taxpayers.
“Accepting a 1 percent raise (for each year) showed a lot of character and a lot of concern for the taxpayers,” O’Brien said. “I think everyone knows the reality of the situation. There wasn’t a lot of money requested and not a lot offered.”
Starting in January, department employees will work 24-hour shifts and then be off for 72 hours. Currently, they work three 10-hour shifts, are off for three days, and then work three 14-hour night shifts.
The change will mean the station has the same type of schedule as the city’s other two separate fire departments, O’Brien said. Because all three departments typically train together, it will simplify training schedules, according to Deputy Chief Scott Schwartz.
Both management and the union supported the move, but it will be reviewed on a quarterly basis, and after a year, the department will determine if the schedule will be permanent.
As for random drug tests, the department had considered the policy during contract negotiations a few years ago, but were worried about possible false positives. Testing technology has improved to the point where employees and department leaders said they now felt comfortable implementing it.
“It’s a benefit to members because we’ll know what’s going on with our membership,” Perry said.
Officials said firefighters will receive 1 percent raises each year of the contract, making for an increase of 5 percent over five years. By way of comparison, the last contract called for a 6 percent raise over three years. Medical contributions will also increase from 10 percent to 15 percent by the end of the new five-year deal.
Fitness tests will be slightly altered and more job-specific under the new contract, Perry said, and recuperation time after injuries has decreased, which means an employee will be assessed after 12 months instead of the previous 18.
Further, retirees looking to cash out on sick days will now only be able to receive payment for 90 days instead of 120.
O’Brien and Schwartz are not part of the union, but O’Brien will soon negotiate the next five years of his 10-year contract in the winter, while Schwartz will negotiate on the additional two years of his three-year deal in the next few months.
Bruce Sweeney, chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, said board members were concerned about protecting taxpayers.
“I think it’s a good contract for both sides, and I have to congratulate the union because they realized times are tough, and they were willing to sacrifice a lot of things to make sure it was an equitable contract and taxpayers weren’t hurt,” Sweeney said.