Amid bickering and abstentions, RTM OKs police, firefighter contracts
New four-year contracts for both police and firefighters were approved Monday by the Representative Town Meeting, although many RTM members were more interested in discussing why it took two years to reach the agreements, rather than the pact details.
The vote was 31-0, with seven abstentions, with a large contingent of police officers and firefighters on hand to listen to the legislative body’s discussion.
“It’s amazing to me these two contracts came up this month when people aren’t likely to be here,” said John Donovan, R-1, one of the seven abstentions. As Donovan cited a study of state employee salaries versus the private sector, First Selectman Michael Tetreau tried to raise a point of order that the discussion was about town salaries, not state salaries.
As both men tried to talk over the other, Donovan snapped at Tetreau: “Back off!”
Chris Tymniak, R-9, the GOP candidate challenging Tetreau for first selectman in the Nov. 3 election, voted for the contracts, but questioned why it took so long to come agreement on the terms. Both contracts are retroactive to 2013.
Taxpayers, he said, basically had to foot a credit card bill while the contract negotiations were ongoing, putting money into contingency to pay any retroactive salary increases.
“I also think we left some money on the table without negotiating in a timely manner,” Tymniak said. “The taxpayers had no idea what we were negotiating.”
Tetreau said both contracts had a number of issues that needed to addressed and negotiated. Negotiations also require research, the first selectman said, including looking at salaries and benefits paid to police and firefighters in nearby communities. And, he said, it was often difficult to set a meeting date when all members of a negotiating team could attend.
Ruth Smey, D-5, twice attempted to bring the discussion back to the details of the negotiated contracts that were on the table, a point of order that was objected to by Bryan Cafferelli, R-10.
The contracts provide for wage increases of 2.49 percent each year, and increase the employee contributions to health insurance premiums, pensions and retirement benefits.
Some RTM members who abstained did so because they felt they couldn’t support the contracts, but did not want to send the pacts to arbitration.
David Mackenzie, R-3, said he objected to the salary increases, which he said are twice the rate of inflation, and the fact that there is no move from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution 401a plans. “Other unions have converted to a 401(a),” Mackenzie said.
Other union contracts for municipal employees now have requirements for newly hired workers to be in a 401(a) plan, but current employees are still covered by traditional pensions.
Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer said for police and firefighters, a defined contribution plan could actually prove to be costly, with the requirement for Social Security payments. In addition, he said, those payments would be based on salary plus any overtime, while pensions are based only on salaries.
Moderator Pam Iacono, R-9, said she was supportive of the contracts, noting that there are no private sector jobs that are comparable to those done by police and firefighters.
“I need to look at each contract on its merit,” Iacono said. “I feel this is fair because there was a give and take.”
Jay Wolk, D-6, said Fairfield residents are lucky that when there is a medical emergency, they will have a police officer, a fire truck and an ambulance show up at their door.
“I don’t think they get paid enough,” Wolk said, “and neither do the teachers. This town is okay, although some of us make it feel like the town is falling apart.”
Fire Lt. Bill Tuttle, vice president of the firefighter’s union, said firefighters are pleased with the contract, with its approval coming after days of hard negotiations.
On a personal note, Tuttle said, he could respect a “no” vote, but “abstaining is the act of a coward.”
Abstaining on the vote were Donovan, Mackenzie, Carol Way, R-5; Kathy Braun, R-8; Tom McCarthy, R-8; Ellen Jacob, R-9, and Bruce Ryan, R-10.