The City Council voted Thursday to ratify a tentative agreement with New London Firefighters Local 1522, ending a months-long stalemate on the issue.
The council voted 4-2 to approve the agreement, with Councilor Adam Sprecace changing his vote to support the terms after they were amended to specify the leve of bargaining in the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System. Mayor Daryl Finizio said 24 layoffs—which would have gone into effect next week if a court did not extend an injunction granted to the union—will be rescinded.
“We have always known through this process that we have an amazing fire department, one of the best around, and we’re very proud of our firefighters,” said Mayor Daryl Finizio. “We’re very glad that this could be resolved both through our negotiations and through tonight’s vote of the City Council. I hope everyone can breathe a great sigh of relief and that everyone in the department can get back to work.”
Receive updates to this story and other breaking news in your inbox or smartphone by signing up for our newsletter here
The terms of the agreement which remain unchanged from the document initially presented to councilors include:
- A reduction in the minimum manning levels per shift from 18 to 16
- The permanent elimination of one fire inspector’s position through attrition, and the agreement that hiring levels in the are “solely within the discretion of the city”
- The promise that no layoffs will occur in the department through the end of Finizio’s first term in office in 2015
- A transfer of the department’s retirement plan from a 401(a) to a MERS pension, with an estimated processing time of six months for the move
- A union forfeiture of a total of 4.25 percent in pay increases in 2012 fiscal year, with two percent pay increases occurring at the beginning of fiscal years 2013 through 2015.
According to an amended agreement signed Tuesday between Chief Administrative Officer Jane Glover and union president Rocco Basilica, the parties agree that if contributions to the MERS plan by the city increase to 18.5 percent or higher or decrease to 12.5 percent or lower, they will “bargain the impact of that increase or decrease only.” This bargaining would be subject to binding arbitration via the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration.
Council and union reactions
Sprecace said he considered that were immediate savings under the original agreement, but that he did an independent cost-assessment analysis and determined that it was “financially a wash” for long-term savings.
“My concern with that original agreement had always been that there was no protection for the city against potential cost increases as a result of the MERS program,” he said.
Sprecace said he did not believe the amended agreement set the exact conditions he was seeking, but that it did provide protection to the taxpayers. He said the agreement would also provide savings in the short term by allowing some older firefighters to retire, with younger firefighters who would be paid at a lower salary taking their place.
Sprecace joined Council President Pro Tempore Wade Hyslop and Councilors Don Macrino and Anthony Nolan, who previously voted to support the original agreement. Councilors Marie-Friess McSparran and John Maynard remained opposed, with Friess-McSparran saying she was concerned about the effect the transfer to a pension system would have on the taxpayers.
“No bonding, that’s what I would have preferred to see,” she said.
Basilica said he was proud of the department’s continued effectiveness through the uncertainties over the agreement.
“I just want to thank the mayor’s staff and the councilors who supported us,” he said. “We certainly won’t forget that.”
There was a brief disagreement at the start of the meeting over whether or not Friess-McSparran would be present for an executive session to discuss the agreement and the subsequent vote, as she was absent for the roll call. Maynard said she would be able to join the conversation and vote via phone, but Hyslop said she would only be able to do the former.
“Then I won’t attend either, because this is an illegal meeting,” Maynard replied.
Glover interjected to say that Friess-McSparran was on her way to the meeting, and the meeting adjourned briefly until she arrived. Friess-McSparran was present for the 20-minute executive session.
Prior to the session, Maynard also questioned whether the meeting had been properly called. He asked whether Council President Michael Passero could call a special meeting, since he is a firefighter who has recused himself from discussions and votes on the agreement.
Law Director Jeff Londregan said Finizio and Passero each have the ability to call special meetings of the council, but they are not required to preside over the meetings.
End of a stalemate
The issue of layoffs in the New London Fire Department has gone back and forth between the mayor’s office and City Council for two and a half months. Finizio said on May 17 that Fire Chief Ron Samul informed him that under the , it would be necessary to and leave five vacant positions unbudgeted. Finizio said Glover would negotiate with the union to seek a solution that would avoid layoffs.
At the third reading of the budget on May 30, the council . These reduced some salaries in the mayor’s office and eliminated funding for other administrative positions, including the deputy police chief, director of the , assistant city clerk, risk manager, and Finizio’s office manager.
Finizio on June 13, saying it overestimated revenues and defunded “critical administrative positions.” On the same day, he announced that the administration had reached a tentative agreement with the union. The council on June 19 but also restored funding to the administrative positions, in part by taking money back out of the fire department budget.
The council vote on whether to approve the agreement on July 2. Opponents to the plan said they had not had sufficient time to review the agreement and wanted assurances that the city would see long-term savings with a switch to a pension plan. The council voted unanimously on July 16 to .
Finizio , with were set to go into effect on July 3, after the first vote. After the decision to table, he said the layoffs would have to go into effect the next day in order for the fire department to stay within its budget. The union acquired an injunction from the to prevent the layoffs, and they were once until a court hearing on the issue. The hearing was scheduled for Monday morning.
Original breaking news:
The City Council voted 4-2 this evening to ratify a tentative agreement with New London Firefighters Local 1522, ending a months-long stalemate on the issue.
Councilor Adam Sprecace, who previously opposed the agreement, voted to support an amended version specifying bargaining for the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System.
Mayor Daryl Finizio said 24 layoffs set to take effect next week if an agreement was not approved will be rescinded.
A full story will be posted this evening.