Fire Union Contract Remains In Limbo

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoMonths after the announcement of a new contract agreement between the city and its firefighters union, members have yet to take a vote. Instead, the union has begun renegotiating the terms with a new mayor.

The city and leadership of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 825 reached an oral agreement in October on a new, five-year contract for the city’s 270 firefighters. The agreement came at the last minute before a panel of arbitrators was set to determine the matter.

Three months later, the union rank and file has not voted on the contract, and labor and management are still disagreeing over the terms of the deal, according to officials on both sides.

Union President Jimmy Kottage (pictured above at an August press conference about a staffing dispute) said he has talked with high-level members of Toni Harp’s administration, which took over City Hall on Jan. 1, about the terms of the contract.

“We’re just having conversations with the new administration to see if things can be beneficial to both sides,” Kottage said on Wednesday.

Kottage’s union endorsed Harp’s candidacy in last fall’s mayoral election.

After the union and city struck an oral agreement last October—averting the binding arbitration process—the city wrote up proposed language for the agreement, which would run from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016. Mayor John DeStefano’s staff calculated that the deal would save the city $2.1 million per year due to concessions in health care, pensions, and the mandatory staffing requirement.

Kottage said the union had “major issues” with the language the city came up with.

“There were mistakes in the language,” he said. There were “dozens of changes that had to be made.” 

The two sides have settled most of the disagreements, he said. One major outstanding issue, said Kottage, is how much firefighters should pay toward their health care. The city is arguing that the union agreed to a 14 percent employee contribution towards medical care starting in 2014; the union is arguing it agreed to only 13 percent.

Harp has kept on Floyd Dugas, the private attorney who has been handling city labor relations for the past year, to continue working on labor contracts, including with the fire department.

“As long as there’s only one issue, I think that we can work through it,” Dugas said Wednesday of the fire union negotiations. “I’m hopeful that there are no more issues that pop up.”

Kottage said he is “optimistic” that the deal will be settled in the near future.

“I don’t see why we won’t be able to resolve it pretty soon,” he said. “We’re having good, cordial conversations”—including with Harp’s chief of staff—“that could possibly be beneficial to both sides.”

Reached earlier this week, Harp said she’s optimistic, too.

“We’re going to get a deal that everybody’s happy with,” she said.

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posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on January 30, 2014  9:38pm

This could be the real first test of our New Mayor.
I hope she does the right thing by the tax payers of New Haven, not the vote pushers.
The union should live up to the agreement, this smells like they are fishing for a little pay back.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on January 31, 2014  12:46am

Definitely smells fishy. At the very least it gives the perception that the NHFD is looking for payback for supporting Harp in the election. If the NHFD gets anything more than what was clearly agreed to, then this will need to be investigated.