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City Tells Fire Union To Butt Out

by Melissa Bailey | Feb 18, 2013 9:08 am

(8) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Labor

Melissa Bailey Photo After he vowed to urge cops to vote down a “pathetic” labor deal, firefighters union President Jimmy Kottage got an official complaint from the city telling him to mind his own business.

The city filed a complaint on Feb. 5 with the state Board of Labor Relations accusing Kottage of interfering with a tentative settlement agreement reached between the city and police union.

In an unusual move that pitted two union heads against each other, Kottage, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 825, urged cops to vote down a tentative agreement reached between their union and City Hall. Kottage argued the deal would “eviscerate” cops’ benefits—and make it harder for firefighters to get a fair deal. Police union leaders called a fair deal that protected officers’ long-term interests while also recognizing the city’s financial troubles, which officials say could imperil their ability to pay retirement and health benefits in the future. Cops later approved the deal by a 2-1 margin; it now awaits approval from aldermen.

The police union concessions mean that Kottage faces a tougher battle as firefighters head into binding arbitration over their own contract on March 21.

And now he’s facing the complaint from the city urging him to keep his nose out of police affairs.

In an interview Friday, Kottage said he won’t stop speaking publicly about the raw deal he feels the city is trying to give cops and firefighters.

“This is a bully tactic to try to silence me,” he said.

Paul Bass File Photo The complaint stems from an email Kottage sent to Louis Cavaliere, Jr. (at left in photo, next to Sgt. Richard Miller), the president of the police union, in the days leading up to the police contract vote.

Kottage first met with Cavaliere at the Greek Olive restaurant on Long Wharf—site of many a tête–à–tête between political powerbrokers—to air concerns about Cavaliere’s tentative deal. Among Kottage’s concerns: the contract weakened the union by splitting up the membership up into different tiers and made medical benefits too expensive. Cavaliere called it a fair offer that preserves 80 percent of benefits rather than risking the loss of much more in arbitration.

After the Greek Olive meeting, Kottage penned an email to Cavaliere. Here’s what the email said, according to Kottage:

Lou,

It’s with regret that I strongly disagree on the decision to TA [reach a tentative agreement on] the contract. As you can’t change your decision, I will urge your members to vote down this pathetic contract.

As I stated to you at the Greek Olive, your tiers and ridiculous cost share jeopardize my member benefits and [the benefits of] members of police and fire [departments] across the state.

The city has accomplished the process of divide and conquer. I will not allow this to happen to my members without a battle.

With three recent line-of-duty deaths and the dangers cops encounter every day, you deserve better. We have earned our benefits and I intend on keeping them.

Jim Kottage
President IAFF Local 825

“Sabotage”

Melissa Bailey File Photo The email got passed around to the inbox of Floyd Dugas (pictured), a private lawyer the city hired to help with labor negotiations while the city’s labor director is out on maternity leave. Dugas forwarded Kottage’s email back to Kottage on Feb. 4 with the following note on the top:

Jim. See below. This was forwarded to me and subsequently [to] the Mayor. Needless to state, we are both extremely disturbed by this blatant effort to sabotage the Tentative Agreement with the police union. We believe the actions of Local 825 to be illegal. I have been asked to file a board charge and/or injunction against Local 825 as a result.

“While we explore those options I must insist that local 825 immediately cease and desist from any further efforts to interfere with negotiations between the City and the police union, Local 530, and in particular the tentative agreement reached in good faith between the parties.

Floyd J. Dugas, Esq.

Kottage did not cease and desist. A day later, Kottage went on the airwaves on 960 AM WELI with Vinnie Penn to warn cops about the deal and repeated the remarks to other news reporters.

Later that day, Feb. 5, Dugas signed off on an official complaint against the fire union. The complaint was filed with the state Board of Labor Relations under the Municipal Employee Relations Act. In the complaint, Dugas charges that the fire union “has restrained and/or coerced employees in the exercise of their rights” guaranteed by that law.

The union “is interfering with a settlement agreement” between the city and police union, Dugas wrote. His complaint asks for “comprehensive statutory remedies,” including a state order to get the union to “cease and desist.”

In an interview at the New Haven Independent office Friday, Kottage denounced the complaint.

“It’s bad enough the city wants to eviscerate our benefits—now they want to take away my Constitutional right to free speech,” Kottage said.

“I will not stand in the way of [the cops’] vote,” Kottage said. But “I will use my right to free speech” to continue speaking out about the “horrible” police contract.

“I do feel sorry for the portion of their department that has been taken out of the middle class,” Kottage charged. Because of givebacks in pension and health care, he charged, new hires to the police force “will never be able to afford to retire.”

Kottage said he is particularly concerned because Mayor John DeStefano “has said to me that my [members’] benefits will be no better than the police officers’.”

Paul Bass File Photo Ironically, Kottage and his union (pictured) endorsed DeStefano in his last reelection; the police union did not.

Reached Friday, Mayor DeStefano declined to respond at length to Kottage’s latest claim that the city is quashing his free speech.

“We’ll resolve that at the labor board,” DeStefano said.

Reached Saturday, Dugas said Kottage went beyond just exercising his right to free speech.

“It’s one thing if he wants to express” his opinion, Dugas said. “But when he tries to influence the vote of another union, that’s where it crosses the line.”

Dugas said his complaint was based primarily on the email Kottage sent to Cavaliere.

“I think it should be clear to everybody what his motivation was,” Dugas added. Kottage has an interest in defeating the police contract because “it has presented difficulties to him in terms of going to arbitration.”

The labor board will hold an “informal hearing” at an as-yet-unscheduled date to hear facts about the complaint, Dugas said. Then the board will decide whether there’s enough evidence to warrant investigating the case more fully. The whole process may take up to six months, Dugas estimated—far longer than the approval of the police contract, which is set to be approved by aldermen next month. Dugas said he hopes the complaint serves to defer any “future efforts” of interfering with other union contracts, as well as interference with the upcoming aldermanic votes.

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posted by: Wildwest on February 18, 2013  9:31am

Its too bad the unions cant keep up with the times. The bubble burst, most of the country is in the middle of financial hard times, and these unions want more money. I’m glad the city is taking some action.

posted by: streever on February 18, 2013  10:24am

I posed this question before. Why did the firefighters endorse DeStefano in the last election? What actual benefit do you think his retaining the mayorship provided you?

This is a man, after all, who recruited several people to give him a budget assessment of a plan to reduce firefighters and fire stations, and then blamed the volunteers who did the work while acting as if he had not commissioned and requested the work and slapped his name on—literally—every single page of the document.

The firefighters were bought in by a serial winner: a man who did whatever it took to win, to the detriment of the reason for running in the first place.

I’d still like to hear—as a matter of curiosity—why they thought he’d be a strong choice for themselves. What promises did he make? What was the conversation like?

posted by: Curious on February 18, 2013  11:29am

Streever, why can’t you FOIA-request that information from the Mayor’s office?

posted by: Robdtaxpyr on February 18, 2013  1:28pm

How come whenever a municipality mismanages itself we arrack public safety? The police union was handed quite a lemon!! They have families and deserve to be taken care of WITHIN REASON. Can the board of aldermen help these cops? Not sure how this works. Take care of firefighters don’t give them this sinful deal. I despise the idea of attacking assets like cops and firemen. Of all the things John picks our pocket for they are one of the few I don’t mind paying fora!!!!

posted by: Sean2356 on February 18, 2013  1:45pm

That police union contract is horrible its a fact and crushes younger members of the dept.  I don’t think these firefighters are looking for more rather just trying to hold on to what they have when they took the positions.  Their pensions are out of control sure and need to be restructured but what the cops did was crazy.  Kottage is looking out for the best interest of his constituents.  Good for him.  I saw firefighters helping people all over the place in this last storm downtown.  They do an invaluable service and should continue to fight for what they believe in.  I don’t mind taxes rising to pay for their service its the other nonsense this admin blows cash on that i have problems with.

posted by: streever on February 18, 2013  2:03pm

Curious
It would be a violation of law if the City documented any of that. While I have no doubt that city employees—department heads probably—worked on the endorsement deal, I don’t think they would be so dumb as to leave a paper trail.

Using city staff on the clock for campaign issues is illegal, so City Hall would not have any record of those discussions.

posted by: NHgirl on February 18, 2013  6:46pm

Thank you Jim for working so hard to keep the benefits for the New Haven fire fighter and their families.  To “Wildwest”  the union is not trying to inflate money or benefits.  You see they are NOT asking for more, they are asking to keep what they have.  Included in this bargaining was a multi million dollar savings for the city. Unfortunately the reader never gets to hear or read this.  Sean and taxpayer you hit it right on the head.  The fire union is aware that in today’s economy you need to make changes.  They did.  Jim is a college educated man who is constantly working to protect the firefighters and families.  I know I would want a union president that fights for me no matter what.  As to why they supported John in the election, they truly thought that at the time he was the best for the job.  He had experience, and always publicly stated that public safety was of upmost importance. 

During the blizzard of 2013 the firefighters really stand out.  They never gave up to get the job done.  They even got a laboring woman to the hospital in a pay loader.  I do hope this city will consider all that they do.  I know I have the upmost respect for the firefighters and Jim Kottage.  Keep up the fight for your families. They are counting on you.

posted by: NHgirl on February 18, 2013  8:31pm

Question to Wild west

Where were you during the blizzard of 2013?

I can tell you that the firefighters were working 72 hours straight to support New Haven with emergency calls,medical calls etc.

Please think about this when you comment harshly.  Thank you

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