Teacher, Town Hall worker contracts OK'd by RTM
Two union contracts for public employees were approved by the Representative Town Meeting Monday night, but by margins that differed greatly.
A 3-year pact with the Fairfield Education Association was approved in a 37-7 vote, while the pact with the United Public Service Employees Union representing Town Hall workers, retroactive to 2013 and expiring in June 2017, squeaked by in a 24-22 vote.
Teachers packed the meeting room, standing along the walls when there were no more seats.
The new teachers' contract, in effect from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2018, provides annual raises of 3 percent and requires them to pay a larger share of health insurance premiums and larger co-pays.
The new FEA contract, said Joe Palmer, R-4, "clearly represents progress," to rein in health care costs, but that progress is "slower than necessary."
However, Palmer and several other RTM members were critical that the town was not able to cut back on teachers' "Cadillac" health plans, which under the Affordable Care Act in 2018 will require the town to pay a 40 percent excise tax.
Having to come up with that tax, Palmer said, "may force the district to look at other cuts" or force taxpayers "to foot the bill when their own health costs are increasing."
Board of Education Chairman Phil Dwyer said officials reviews health-insurance options that included both traditional PPO plans and high deductible plans. He said the PPO proved to be the better option because the school board's demographics are different than those of town employees, and the school board does not pay teachers' medical benefits after retirement.
Jay Lipp, R-1, said each year the RTM is told the increase in the education budget is mostly tied to contractual obligations, making the budget "more than the town could afford."
Lipp wanted to Board of Education to agree to a school budget increase of no more than 2 percent in the coming year. "If the board limits it to a 2 percent budget increase, if we see that's your goal, I will support this contract." Lipp, along with six other Republican RTM members, voted to reject the teacher contract.
Had the contract been rejected, it would have gone to binding arbitration, a prospect Houston said could prove to be very costly for the town if the union won its demands.
"We need to look at this as a whole," said Allen Marks, D-6. "I believe this contract was negotiated very well on our behalf."
Fairfield Warde High School civics teacher Charles Flynn said he also works two part-time jobs. Teaching, he said, "is the passion of my life, other than my children ... I love this place, I love this job. I hope all of you will consider this is an investment."
And Quaker Lane resident Tina Brown, also a teacher in Fairfield, said she hears the complaints about teachers receiving raises. Under the current contract, she said, those raises mean an additional $52 annually in her paycheck, "but my taxes went up a lot more than that ... This is the first time in five years we're going to see more than $52."
The Town Hall employee contract covers about 88 people, and offers raises of 2 percent retroactive to 2013-14, and 2.30 percent, 2.35 percent and 2.50 percent in coming years. It offers a high deductible health insurance plan and health savings account. Any union workers retiring after July 1, 2016, will contribute 12 percent toward the Medicare "carve-out" at age 65. Employes hired after July 1, 2016, will pay 50 percent upon retirement to Medicare costs.
"This contract is for four years, I'm not sure why it was extended to four," said David Mackenzie, R-3. "It seems it would be important to review that at three years. They ought to be reviewed at least on a three-year frequency."
John Donovan, R-1, said, "People don't want to call out the elephant in the room, these are rates that aren't being seen in the private sector. There's got to be a balance at some point."
When it came time to vote on the Town Hall contract, all of the Democrats voted to approve, along with seven of the Republican counterparts. The majority of the GOP members voted against the pact.