NEW HAVEN, CT — City officials told the fire union to stay out of their business with the police union contract.
The city filed a complaint with the State Board of Labor Relations, alleging that the fire union is interfering with a settlement agreement between the city and the police union by criticizing the deal. It includes a request for a cease-and-desist order.
An email from fire union President James Kottage to police union President Louis Cavaliere Jr. came to the attention of Floyd Dugas, the lawyer who signed-off on the complaint on behalf of the city.
The police union passed a tentative agreement with the city by a more than 2-to-1 margin. Fire union executive members were vocal about their disapproval.
“I will not be silenced, I have my constitutional rights to free speech,” said Kottage. “I stand by my comments; it’s a horrible, pathetic contract.”
Members of the police union had a few choice words for the fire union executive members.
“Next time you endorse a mayor maybe you should do your homework,” Cavaliere said, in regard to the city filing the complaint after the union endorsed Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for another term.
DeStefano said the fire union’s behavior was something the city had never seen before.
“The city negotiated in good faith and reached a tentative agreement with the police union,” he said. “We’ve never experienced another bargaining unit do that before. We feel they are interfering with the process.”
Dugas agreed with DeStefano.
“Honestly, in all my years, I’ve never seen something quite like that … to affirmatively try to interfere with their intra-union vote,” he said.
The practice concerns Dugas for future negotiations, he said. The complaint will likely take six months to work its way through the system.
“I don’t want to see this happen again either this year or in the future,” he said. “We are in negotiations with other unions and we hope to have tentative agreements soon.”
Kottage said he predicts the Police Department will have a mass exodus to suburban police departments in two years over the new contract.
“What they are doing is putting a Band-Aid on a wound, but they are causing a major problem,” he said.
He added that the complaint will likely fail.
“I think it holds absolutely no weight … just like people are free to criticize a government budget, I think the fire union has the right to criticize the cop’s contract,” he said.
Dugas countered and said the fire union tactics don’t qualify as free speech.
“Anybody certainly has a right to say what they want to say, but I think they are hiding behind the First Amendment when they are trying to interfere with a vote between another union and the city,” he said.
The tentative agreement with the city must go before the Board of Aldermen for final approval.
Fire union executive members have previously said they think they can get a better deal in arbitration than police did in negotiations. Dugas once again said that arbitration likely won’t swing in the union’s favor.