NEW HAVEN, CT — Fire union officials said that arbitration looks like a better option after seeing some potential changes in the police union contract.
“In my opinion, it’s the worst public safety contract negotiated in the state,” said James Kottage, fire union president. “It’s an evisceration of benefits.”
The police union is scheduled to vote on the tentative agreement today. The agreement is expected to pass, sources said. The agreement would then go before the Board of Aldermen to get final approval.
Some of the changes within the tentative agreement include:
—An increase in pension contribution from 10 percent to 12 percent.
—Retirement after 25 years for officers who graduate from the New Haven Police Academy after the current class. Current officers and the current academy class can still retire after 20 years.
—A tiered system for retiree medical benefits based on retirement date. Those who retire prior to July 1, 2014, will pay a maximum of $140 a month for family coverage. On the other end, those who graduate from the academy after the current class will have to pay the same cost-share as active members pay, along with 50 percent of a spouse premium cost and no coverage for dependents.
—A 9 percent raise spread across five years.
“I’m willing to go to arbitration and fight for our guys,” Kottage said. “They deserve better than what the cops got; the cops deserve better than what they got.”
Police union President Louis Cavaliere Jr. said that arbitration would be a bad move because even unions in wealthy towns such as Cheshire, Easton and Greenwich lose. New Haven is one of the poorest cities in the state, he said.
Municipalities typically bring up ability to pay during arbitration. “The city has no money, they have no rainy day fund,” he said. “They would bring that against us first.”
“During our research, we have not come across an arbitration award for public safety that has such a dire impact on current employees,” said Frank Ricci, vice president of the fire union.
The big benefit retained in the police agreement is a retirement pension after a minimum of 20 years with the department, Cavaliere said. The benefit applies for all current members of the department and the current academy class.
The city referred questions on the contract to attorney Floyd Dugas, who has represented the city in previous union negotiations.
The contract still remains competitive with other departments because it includes a pension plan as opposed to a 401(k) or other contribution-based plan, Dugas said.
Dugas added that arbitration could go against the fire union, especially during tough economic times.
“Arbitration by its nature is unpredictable for both parties,” he said. “It’s rarely a one-sided victory.”
Newcomers under the police tentative agreement get the short end of the stick, Ricci said. It could encourage “a mass exodus” in future academy classes as they leave for suburban police forces.
“For community policing to work, officers need to stay here longer than five years in order to form those community bonds,” he said.
The idea of tiered benefit system didn’t thrill union members, Cavaliere said; however the alternative would have likely been a tiered system decided through arbitration.