FAIRFIELD — A new contract with retroactive pay raises for dispatchers in the Emergency Communications Center were approved Oct. 23 by the Representative Town Meeting.

The approval, however, was not unanimous, with 11 Republicans voting against the pact, citing their displeasure with the not only the time it took to negotiate the new contract, but also the fact that while raises are retroactive, the increased share of their health benefits is not.

The previous contract expired in June of 2014, and the agreement just approved will expire in June of 2019. The agreement calls for a 2 percent wage increase, retroactive to 2014. However, an increase in the share of health care costs only applies to the current year of the contract, and the last year of the contract. ECC employees, members of Communications Workers of America, have been paying 11 percent of their health care costs. With the ratification of the new contract, they will pay 13 percent for 2017-18, and 13.5 percent beginning in June of 2018.

“As I started at committee meetings, I had concerns about our contracts being so slow to come to us,” said Carol Way, R-5. “Already, three years of this contract had already expired when it came to us.”

And, Way said, while its often said that a 2 percent increase isn’t much, she said because the increase in health costs isn’t retroactive like the wage increase, “it’s really more than a 2 percent increase.” Way said her concerns have nothing to do with the employees themselves..

“My concern is about the inability, it seems, to put these contract agreements together on time, and be really and truly accurate about what they area,” Way said.

But Kevin Scrobola, business agent for the union, said Way’s contention that workers are getting a more than 2 percent raise just wasn’t true.

Originally, he said, the union was looking for a retroactive 2.5 percent wage increase, but that would have meant the health increase would also have been retroactive, effectively giving them a 2 percent raise. Instead, it was agreed that they would receive a retroactive 2 percent raise, but the increased health costs would not be retroactive.

“We are not telephone operators patching a call into another department,” Scrobola said. Dispatchers, he said, triage calls and provide critical information to first responders and calls. They are usually, he said, “the first person you will have contact with in a life or death situation.”

Scrobola said the ECC employees were forced to make concessions in prior contract, including giving up pension plans, and changing retiree benefits.

He said there used to be low turnover in the ECC, but that is changing as dispatchers move to other departments with higher wages and better benefits.

“It costs $52,000 to train a new dispatcher,” Scrobola said. “If they stay just two years, that’s $52,000 wasted. Our shared goals should be one where we create an environment that keeps them here for a 30 year career.”

He said he believes the pact provides a competitive wage and good medical plan, while also being fair to the taxpayers.

“This is not the first time this particular issue has come before this body,” Tom McCarthy, R-9, said. “If we’re going to be retroactive with pay increases, we have to be retroactive with the rest. We just want to be clear on this point.”

According to Michael Herley, R-10, businesses are moving out, private sector jobs and wages are down, and home values are decreasing.

“I think this agreement is too expensive,” Herley said. “Ask yourself if you think the town is in better financial position and can afford this labor agreement.”

But Jay Wolk, D-5, took issue with Herley’s description of the town. “I think we’re ok, I think the town still has a triple A rating, we sort of know how much money we need to make up from the state,” Wolk said, “but right now, I don’t think this town is in bad shape.”

“I think that these people who do this job do not get paid enough,” Wolk said. “I don’t know what we’re talking about, its been a fair deal.”