Firefighters are hot under the collar over a decision to make their recently approved contract retroactive to 2010, an action that makes some firefighters liable for thousands of dollars to the town.

Bob Smith, head of the firefighter union, contends that throughout the union's negotiations with the town the understanding -- and the language in the tentative agreement -- was that the new contract would take effect on the date it was signed, which as yet it has not been.

However, he said the town has informed the union that firefighters will get retroactive pay for the 2 percent increase in the contract's second year that remains through June 30, but also that any firefighter who took more than 12 sick days will have to pay the town back for those days.

The previous contract allotted firefighters 28 sick days yearly, while the new pact limits sick days to 12.

"It very clearly stated in a number of places that the effective date for all provisions should be the date the new contract is signed," Smith said. He said it was never the intent of the union to have any contract provisions, including the pay increase, applied retroactively.

He said the individuals that owe money have not been notified by the town, but there are 22 firefighters that will need to pay some money back. For some, that means payments of more than $3,000.

The total amount to be paid to union firefighters, after all the paybacks under the retroactive terms, is $56,408, about $3,000 more than the bill from the labor lawyer who represented the town for the fire negotiations, Smith said.

The tentative agreement signed by the union and then-First Selectman Kenneth Flatto on July 7, 2010, states on both the first and last pages the pact takes effect from, "Date of signing through June 30, 2013."

Original terms of the firefighter contract would have run July 2010 to June 30, 2013. It would have provided no wage increase the first year and increases of 2 percent and 2.75 percent in the second and third years. The pact also increased co-pays for medical benefits, in most cases doubling the out-of-pocket cost. In addition, starting this year, all firefighters will pay $36 a week toward their health insurance premiums.

"I am disappointed that after almost two years since this document has been signed the town has decided not to abide by the original language," Smith said. "This entire process has gone on long enough and we would just like the town to do the right thing and honor the agreement that we both signed."

In February, the Representative Town Meeting ended up approving the same contract with firefighters that it had rejected back in 2010. The legislative body at the time rejected the pact because it did not require newly hired firefighters to have a defined-contribution plan for retirement, such as a 401-K, rather than a defined-benefits plan, or pension, as the firefighters already on staff do. The recent approval, however, came after the labor lawyer for the town said the differing terms would be costly to arbitrate because a memo of understanding signed by Flatto in 2011 limited the items that could be addressed by the state's binding arbitration.

Smith said the union only learned of the decision to make the contract retroactive when he asked for a copy of the contract in order to sign it.

He said he has met with First Selectman Michael Tetreau to review the tentative agreement's language, and is hopeful Tetreau "will see what the original intent was and apply it properly so we can get on with the business of keeping Fairfield safe."

Tetreau did not return calls for comment, and town Human Resources Director Mary Carroll Mirylees said she had no comment on the issue.

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