Stung by arbitration loss, RTM members trade barbs OKing school administrator pact
Updated 9:10 am, Friday, March 20, 2015
A special session of the Representative Town Meeting on Thursday night overwhelmingly voted to accept a contract for public school administrators that it had previously rejected and sent to arbitration.
The March 19 vote was 23 not to reject the deal, while 7 members voted to reject it.
In December, by a 21-20 vote, the legislative body rejected the contract, with several members of the GOP majority decrying the fact that the contract for the 38 administrators did not include a high-deductible health insurance plan. At the time, the negotiating team said the preferred provider health plan would actually save the town about $130,000 over the three years of the contract, and determined that the HSA plan would be more costly.
With both sides presenting their "last, best offer" to an arbitration panel -- the union seeking a PPO and the town the HSA -- the panel sided with the union. The three-month arbitration process cost the town $95,924 in litigation and associated costs.
Thursday's meeting did not actually have to be held. Had the RTM taken no action by Saturday, the arbitrated contract would have been deemed approved. To reject it the second time would have required a two-thirds majority vote.
"Perhaps we would be in a better place today if the BOE had coordinated more closely with the RTM Republican majority in representing our views and accordingly re-negotiated a more favorable contract during the arbitration hearing," said Deputy Majority Leader Michael Herley R-1. "The RTM Republican majority retains its right to reject labor contracts presented to it that are either too rich for the taxpayer or too generous when it comes to employee fringe benefits. That's what we did at the December 2014 RTM meeting and we stand by that vote despite the outcome of the arbitration hearing."
The arbitration panel cannot choose a middle ground between the two sides, but chooses one of the two offers.
"This is a legislative body," said Minority Leader Hal Schwartz, D-7. "We have no role in the arbitration room, no role in contract negotiations." The $130,000 that the contract would have saved, Schwartz said, is gone. "You guys took a risk because you thought you could bully people ... Guess what, you lost."
Chris Tymniak, R-9, a Republican candidate for this year's first selectman nomination, said he took offense at being called bullies. He said HSA health plans are the future of employee health coverage, and the GOP majority has been sending that message for two years now.
"We want to see our contracts contain an HSA plan," Tymniak said, adding that 88 towns in the state offer PPOs and HSAs.
He also questioned the arbitration costs "for something like this that was so simple." The only issue considered during the arbitration process was the health plan.
Kevin Hoffkins, D-7, said it was irresponsible to reject the contract in December when the RTM was told then that arbitration could cost up to $100,000. "You have no right to act surprised," he said.
Others contend they were given lower cost estimates for the arbitration, and the RTM should not allow the threat of what might possibly happen in arbitration prevent the body from rejecting a contract they feel is too expensive for the town.
"We'd be abdicating our responsibility," Thomas McCarthy, R-8, said.