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VIDEO: New London Firefighters Will Be Laid Off Today

Council unanimously tables decision on a tentative agreement with the firefighters' union; 24 layoffs go into effect on Tuesday evening

Twenty-four members of the are scheduled to lose their jobs on Tuesday evening following a City Council vote to table a tentative agreement with the fire union.

The council unanimously voted to table the agreement. The decision follows two July 2 votes in which the council . Mayor Daryl Finizio said the layoffs will go into effect at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday in order to balance the department’s approved budget for the 2013 fiscal year.

"I was completely outraged. It's completely ridiculous what the men have been through," said Rocco Basilica, president of the New London Firefighters Local 1522.

The details of the agreement have not been publicly released, but Basilica said it includes reducing the staffing levels per shift from 18 to 16 at a savings of $750,000 per year plus $463,000 in overtime. Firefighters would also forfeit two raises totaling 4.25 percent and give up nine positions with no layoffs.

The agreement was negotiated between Finizio’s administration and the union. Under the budget approved by the City Council, Finizio initially said it would be necessary to . The council initially , including administrative salaries, to increase the department’s budget. It later agreed to following and announcement that the administration had reached a tentative agreement with the union.  

Proponents of the agreement said it would make the department more competitive by implementing a pension system, allowing older firefighters to retire and newer firefighters to be retained. Councilors opposed to the agreement said they had not received assurances that it would lead to long-term savings.

Support for the agreement

Prior to the council meeting, members of the New London union and other firefighters’ unions from across the state rallied in front of . Layoffs will take place based on which employees were hired last, and the affected men wore shirts bearing the number signifying their order of seniority.

“The guys are constantly rising to the challenge, despite what’s going on,” said Lt. Jeffrey Rheaume. “But they’re fearful about being laid off and what it would mean for the department and the city.”

Firefighter Mike Leonard said the agreement would correct issues with the department’s retirement system. He said the firefighters do not receive Social Security, and that layoffs would leave a workforce of people in their 50s and 60s who would be more vulnerable to medical issues.

“We’re going to in a few weeks here, it looks like, and we need to save money,” said Leonard.

Lt. Jonathan Paige, vice president of the union, said the agreement would allow older firefighters to retire and have the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System absorb injury costs. Firefighter Kevin Campbell, one of the employees who will lose his job, said the current system requires New London firefighters to work until age 65. He said the agreement would help retain younger firefighters, who often leave to join departments with better benefits, and that this would allow the department to improve its diversity as well.

Employees also said the layoffs would have a detrimental effect on the department’s operations. Deputy Chief Henry Kydd said he thinks response times will increase and residents and firefighters will be at risk.

“I never thought in my life I’d see what is happening here,” he said. “It’s disgusting.”

Basilica said the layoffs affect about 40 percent of the department’s workforce. One of the 25 people who received a pink slip has since left the department. Lt. Roger Tompkins said the remaining firefighters will face increased pressure and lengthy shifts. Tompkins said the department’s expenditures would also increase due to additional overtime costs.

“There’s no need for them not to agree,” he said.

Council response

Councilor Adam Sprecace said he thought the agreement would result in savings for the 2013 fiscal year, but was not convinced that it would carry over to additional years. He said he was also disappointed that the council did not have a role in the bargaining process, and felt there had been little time to review the agreement.

“What I’m seeing is city after city going bankrupt, and they’re going bankrupt in part due to ageements like this,” he said.

Sprecace also said he thought Finizio was trying to force action on the issue due to the threat of layoffs. He said he considers that there is enough money in the fire department’s budget to defer the layoffs for an additional 10 months.

“I didn’t run for office to be a rubber stamp,” he said. “If I have concerns, I’m going to relay them and I’m going to act on them. If I don’t get them addressed, I’m going to act another way. And to vote with a gun to my head is not something I’ll ever do.”

Councilor John Maynard criticized the actions of Finizio and Council President Michael Passero, accusing them of striking a deal to override Finizio’s veto. Maynard said the council’s original transfer of funds from other areas would have avoided the layoffs.

 “You need to be looking at these individuals that took the money out of the fire department and put it back in the mayor’s office, not me,” he said.

Councilor Anthony Nolan said he has talked with Finance Director Jeff Smith and others involved in the process, and considered that the agreement would result in savings continuing beyond the 2013 fiscal year.

“Some of you told me that well, you’re losing votes,” he said. “Well, I was voted in to do what I thought was in the best interests in the city. So if losing your vote is because of something I think is in the best interests of the city, take your vote.”

Councilor Donald Macrino also supported the agreement, saying the city could renegotiate it after a year if they determined that there were unanticipated costs involved.

“It at least appears to me at this point that this deal can be successfully struck and preserve the integrity of our tax base and the city of New London,” he said.

Passero continued to recuse himself from votes on the issue since he is employed as a New London firefighter. Before leaving the chambers, however, he gave a brief statement.

“I only hope that we can resolve the issue,” he said. “I believe we will resolve the issue. We’ve been through difficult times in this city before. We’ve worked together, we’ve come together, we’ve disagreed, and we’ll come together again. So we will overcome this issue.”

Council President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop, who previously supported the agreement, was absent due to a medical issue. The remaining councilors unanimously accepted a motion by Macrino to table the question.

Finizio statement

After meeting with Basilica and Kydd, Finizio spoke to firefighters and their families outside his office. He apologized on behalf of the city for the anxiety the employees have faced.

“The City Council has failed to act on a very reasonable agreement that the city reached in good faith with our fire union,” he said. “This agreement saved the city all necessary funds to avoid all layoffs, generate significant savings, and give our firefighters the pension that they deserve.”

Finizio said that he met with Fire Chief Ron Samul, Chief Administrative Officer Jane Glover, and others and came to the conclusion that the layoffs would go into effect if the council did not approve the agreement.

“This is not a matter of financial realities. This is not a matter of confusion. This is, simply put, a matter of politics,” he said. “But the city administration in a tough budget with no reserves with no fund balance cannot play politics anymore.”

Finizio said his administration will work with the councilors and union as soon as possible in an attempt to avoid the layoffs.

“This is a tragic result for the city of New London that I hope in time can be resolved,” he said.

 

9:25 p.m. update

Twenty-four layoffs in the will go into effect at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday following the City Council's decision to table a tentative agreement with the firefighters' union.

Mayor Daryl Finizio accused the council of political posturing in the decision. He said councilors have had adequate time to review the agreement and that the layoffs in the department have been twice postponed while the administration negotiated with the union. He said the layoffs will go into effect in order to balance the department's 2013 fiscal year budget.

"I was completely outraged. It's completely ridiculous what the men have been through," said Rocco Basilica, president of the New London Firefighters Local 1522.

The details of the agreement have not been publicly released, but Basilica said it includes reducing the staffing levels per shift from 18 to 16 at a savings of $750,000 per year plus $463,000 in overtime. Firefighters would also forfeit two raises totaling 4.25 percent and give up nine positions with no layoffs.

Several members of the firefighters' union spoke in favor of the agreement, saying it would create a pension plan allowing older firefighters to retire. They said this would help with the retention of younger firefighters and help to make the department more diverse.

Opponents said they did not think there was sufficient information on whether the agreement would result in long-term savings.

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On July 2, council approval of the agreement . Councilors who opposed the agreement said they felt they had not had sufficient time to review the agreement and expressed concerns over whether transferring the department to the Municipal Employees Retirement Fund would result in increased costs to the city. Council President Michael Passero, who is employed as a firefighter, recused himself from the vote.

Twenty-five layoffs were scheduled to go into effect in the fire department on July 3. Finizio put these on hold for two weeks, asking the council to review the agreement and meet with his administration on any concerns before reconsidering the matter at tonight’s meeting.

A full story will be posted this evening.

 

Original breaking news

The New London City Council tabled a vote to accept a tentative agreement with the firefighters' union, and 25 firefighters are set to be laid off as of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The story will be updated soon.

Paul July 20, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Jim, I read your comments and Im sure you have something to say but I cant understand them....try proofreading them before you hit submit
Paul July 20, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Amanda pls thank your FF for his service.. However, your FF is not the only one that has a dangerous job . A lot of people do. More than you think..He chose to be a fireman and you chose to be a FF significant other. There are no surprises here to either of you...I saw a number of friends(who didnt chose to be there) in Nam that didnt make it home and I NEVER NEVER heard their wives whinning like you and from where I sit they had more reason to. Nobody is trying to kill your FF...YOU CHOSE THIS LIFE AS DID YOUR FF...Thank him again but get a hold of yourself
jim mcnally July 20, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Paul thank you for response to my statementbut must understand when responding to councillor or their mouthpieces you have to talk their language. As for your going after ff and family please note many ARE VETS AND I PAST COMMANDER POST 9 NEW LONDON and resent your comment!
Dannyboy July 21, 2012 at 12:01 PM
notanative: do I get an apolgy now. akunamatada my friend
Dannyboy July 26, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Hi Rob. How many layoffs have there been so far if I am wrong. Yup just what I said. A scare tactic that never was going to happen.

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