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.
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:
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.
President IAFF Local 825
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’.”
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.