After nearly 50 years, the state’s largest police union will fold into a larger statewide municipal union due to rising expenses, loss of membership and the unwillingness to pay higher membership dues, according to its president, Patrick Gaynor.
Gaynor, a police captain in Meriden, confirmed Council 15 Connecticut Council of Police is transitioning to become part of Council 4. Both unions are affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. There is no timeline for the transition, which is ongoing, he said.
“It’s not up to me, it’s up to the members,” said Gaynor, who has served as president of Council 15 for several years. “I feel it’s a smart move. We’re going to have a much larger organization to be part of that offers more services.”
Council 4, based in New Britain, represents about 32,000 state and federal employees, making it the largest municipal union in Connecticut. By charter, Council 15 only represents police officers, while Council 4 represents a variety of state and municipal employment groups. Based in Cheshire, Council 15 has been operating for nearly five decades and represents about 2,300 police officers in 55 local unions throughout the state, said Gaynor. Police in Meriden, Cheshire and Wallingford are represented by Council 15.
On June 16, delegates at the 48th annual Council 15 convention voted to join Council 4.
“There were two options,” Gaynor said. “A dues increase to sustain the union as police only and keep staff, or looking into a merger with Council 4.”
Being the larger of the two unions, Council 4 offers lower dues and more financial stability, he said. The cost of operating Council 15 has grown in recent years, especially with loss of membership. Council 15 employs staff attorneys to help handle contract negotiations or any other legal issues that an officer might face. In addition, Council 15 employs clerical staff and previously paid an executive director. Jeffrey Matchett, a former Milford police sergeant, resigned as executive director in March after nearly six years on the job, Gaynor said, adding that he could not publicly disclose the details of Matchett’s departure.
Over the last year, Council 15 covered union costs for a record number of arbitration hearings, adding to expenses, according to Gaynor. The only way to remain solely a police union was to raise dues by $10, from $32 per month to $42 per month, he said. Rather than go with the increase, members decided to create a public safety chapter with Council 4. Gaynor said it was his understanding Council 4 dues are lower than $32 per month.
Det. John Williams, president of the Meriden police union, said Council 15 has lost revenue and nearly 1,800 members over the past two years.
“(Council 15) cannot continue to operate due to loss of revenue and increasing costs,” he wrote in an emailed statement Thursday. “We were notified at a union conference abruptly two weeks ago. So it’s a surprise to us as well. We are still being updated as we go day by day.”
Williams said he was told Council 15 will completely shut down over the next 30 to 60 days. He noted that Gaynor has been the Council 15 president “over the past couple years as the enrollment there has steadily declined.”
Several local unions have left Council 15 in recent years because of differences of opinion, Gaynor confirmed. Other local unions wanted to operate independently or didn’t want to be part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees or any other larger organization. Three local unions consisting of about 600 members left when a staff attorney with Council 15 couldn’t be guaranteed a job. When the attorney went to Council 4, the local unions followed.
Gaynor said he would rather see local police unions stick together with Council 15 or through a merger with Council 4.
“I believe in strength in numbers and coordination,” he said.
A representative from Council 4 couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. A joint statement posted on Council 4’s website from Gaynor and Council 4 Executive Director Sal Luciano addresses the merger. It states that agreements and representation for Council 15 members will remain the same. To ensure there is no disruption of services, Council 15 staff are being offered positions at Council 4, according to the statement. The Council 15 board will remain intact.
The closure of Council 15 will have an impact on local unions, Williams said, “as we will be going to a council that up until this year did not work with police unions, per se.”
According to Gaynor, Council 4 does represent around 5,000 people in public safety positions, such as correction officers and court marshals. While this is true, Williams said, “(police) are a little different.”
Williams is concerned about the availability of attorneys in Council 4. If a local police officer uses serious or deadly force at 2 a.m., an attorney is needed right away, not during regular business hours. An officer has the right to be represented whether the use of force is justified or not, he said, just as a person being arrested has the right to legal representation.
“So this is a change for Council 4, but from what we have been told this will occur as well,” he said. “Right now in the transitional stage there are always bumps in the road but we will have to cross that bridge if we get there.”
Staff from Council 15 and Council 4 are meeting weekly to ensure a seamless transition, Gaynor said.