NEW HAVEN — If the city police union had accepted the most recent contract offer by the city, its officers would have been the lowest paid among a group of 12 departments in lower-income municipalities, union President Florencio Cotto Jr. said Friday at anews conference, standing in front of dozens of plainclothes officers outside police headquarters.
According to information distributed at the event at 1 Union Ave., the city’s April 18 offer of 2 percent increases this year and next, with no retroactive pay, would mean the top salary would be $71,056 in 2020. The officers have worked without a contract since 2015. The starting salary now is $44,400. The cost of health insurance also has been a point of contention in negotiations.
“We’ll be the lowest of the lowest of the lowest in the state of Connecticut,” Cotto said. He said the union had asked Mayor Toni Harp for the city’s last, best offer before it would trigger arbitration. “Before we go to arbitration, give us the best you can do,” Cotto said the mayor was told. The union then overwhelmingly rejected the 4 percent increase through 2020.
“We took her at her word, when our membership rejected that offer … we were in arbitration,” Cotto said. The union voted to go into arbitration in July 2018.
“Contrary to the mayor’s suggestion, the union is again willing to sit down and settle this contract as it always has been,” Cotto said.
Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Friday, “As far as the city is concerned, the Elm City Local can pursue one of two strategies. Either they can continue with the arbitration process, which has been going on now for over a year, will take several more months, and seems to be frustrating union leadership, or they can return to the table with a counteroffer that is more than a year overdue.”
At a news conference Thursday, Harp said the union had not made a counteroffer to the city’s April 18 offer and asked for a “reasonable” proposal. She said the union, Elm City Local Inc., would have done better negotiating with the city directly rather than going before an arbitration panel.
This year’s top base salary is $68,297 in New Haven. Of the 12 lower-income towns and cities with populations above 45,000, top pay ranges from $71,480 in Hartford to $87,316 in Hamden.
“All of the offers made to settle this case were off the record” because the two sides are in arbitration, said Stephen McEleney of Manchester, attorney for Elm City Local. “There is a hard and fast rule in negotiations that you do not discuss … what are termed off-the-record proposals.”
McEleney did not provide the union’s last pre-arbitration offer but said it included retroactive pay.
Cotto also disputed the mayor’s contention that the department is not losing minority officers for better-paying departments at a rate that reduces the diversity of New Haven police. Harp, responding to a union statement that black and Hispanic officers were leaving the city in higher numbers than white police officers, said those who have left in the last five years “mirror the percentage of those that have been recruited, hired and trained during that time.” She said 60 percent of those who have retired since 2014 have been white.
McEleney provided a list of officers who this year have retired or resigned to take jobs with other departments, including the FBI, Torrington, Hamden, Meriden, Clinton, Stamford and Danbury. He said seven of the 10 were black and Hispanic. However, according to the printout provided, it appears that five were white, three were black and two were Hispanic. One is a woman.
Three of the resignations take effect Saturday and one on Tuesday.
Cotto said he called the news conference in response to Harp’s, which he called “a personal attack on myself [and] union leadership.”
He said the union was preparing a new offer Thursday and that negotiators would attend the next session with Harp.
Cotto said “the mayor invited us back to the table” on Thursday.
Both sides in previous statements asked the other to follow the example of Bridgeport, where police and the city agreed last month to a five-year settlement, with retroactive increases of 1 percent for 2016, 2.5 percent for 2017 and 2 percent in each year through 2020. That will bring the top base salary in Bridgeport to $75,163 in the last year.
According to policeapp.com, starting salaries in other Connecticut towns range higher than in New Haven, Hartford or Bridgeport, including $63,375 in Torrington, $68,944 in Norwalk and $67,184 in West Hartford.
As of early February, there were 377 officers on New Haven’s force, which is budgeted for 495 sworn positions.
According to information provided by the union Friday, 28 officers have left the force this year or will next week through resignation or retirement. Seventeen of them are white, six black and four Hispanic. All but one is a male.
Justin Elicker, who is challenging Harp in this year’s Democratic primary for mayor, attended the news conference and said that when he talks to police, “Universally, officers say to me that they love their job but they haven’t had a contract in three years and that creates uncertainty that’s led to the loss of so many officers to the suburbs. Morale in the police force is at a low.”