Dispatcher pact with concessions OK'd by RTM
A four-year labor contract with the town's emergency dispatchers, which ends municipal pension coverage for new employees and requires higher insurance payments, won approval Monday from the Representative Town Meeting.
The legislative body approved the pact with the 17-member dispatchers' union by a 35-6 vote.
In place of the defined-benefits pension plan that had covered retirement for dispatchers in the past, newly hired dispatchers will be covered by a defined-contributions plan similar to a 401-K. The contarct also boosts the amount the union members will pay for their health insurance premiums and the co-payments under that plan.
The contract, retroactive to 2010, provides raises of 2 percent effective July 1, 2012, another 2 percent when ratified by the RTM and 2.25 percent effective July 1, 2013. The contract expires June 30, 2014.
Despite some of the concessions that town officials hope set a pattern for future contracts with municipal employee unions, some representatives were not happy.
"There's no incentive to recognize what's going on in the economy," said Carolyn Richmond, R-1, one of the six voting "no." While the dispatcher union is small, she said, all the contracts' wage increases add up."Once we set precedent, the next union contract will look the same."
Progress on getting concessions from town unions, Richmond said, "is so slow we aren't going to be able to survive as a town."
Ellen Jacob, R-9, said the unemployment rate is higher in Fairfield than in towns like Westport, Greenwich and New Canaan. "I don't want to be harsh, but I think we have to remember the taxpayer," she said.
However, Kevin Hoffkins, D-7, said if the town wants to keep good dispatchers "you have to pay them. These people do an important job ... You need to look at the contract as a whole."
Joseph Palmer, R-4, said he couldn't support the contract specifically because he feels the health insurance premium contribution is too low. Instead of paying a flat rate, no matter how many members of a family are covered by the town's insurance plan, the dispatch center employees will now pay a percentage of the premium. In addition, those paying for two people or a family will pay more than an employee paying for single coverage.
Current employees will pay 10 percent of the premium, employees hired after July 1, 2012, will pay 12 percent. Those percentages increase ot 11 and 13 perccent, respectively, on July 1, 2013.
"Ten percent is too low," Palmer said, adding he believes state employees pay 27 percent.
For Nick Mirabile, R-9, the precedents set by the new agreement are positive. "It does set up a nice precedent for us," he said. "We moved the needle forward in all areas." Mirabile said he'd like to see the same types of concessions in other town contracts.
David Becker, R-1, the RTM's majority leader, asked when the town would prepare a study comparing pension plans versus defined-contribution plans, that was requested several years ago.
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