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Firefighters OK New Contract By 5-1 Vote

by Melissa Bailey | Mar 11, 2014 1:44 pm

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

Posted to: Labor

Melissa Bailey Photo (Updated with Harp comment.) Firefighters will make a major switch in how they pay for health care, according to the terms of a new labor contract ratified Monday.

They will all move from traditional health insurance plans to health savings accounts (HSAs), a first for any city union, as the city continues efforts to rein in long-term labor costs.

By a vote of 181 to 37, firefighters approved a new, 5-year contract. The voting took place Friday and Monday at firehouses around town.

The deal runs from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016. It still needs to be approved by the Board of Alders.

It includes pay raises balanced out by givebacks in pension and medical plans that are estimated to save the city about $2.25 million per year, according to the mayor’s office.

“I’m pleased with the outcome,” fire union President Jimmy Kottage said Monday night at the fire training school on Ella Grasso Boulevard, where the ballots were counted after 9 p.m. “It’s an equitable contract during difficult fiscal times.”

“It’s been a grueling three years” of negotiations, he said.

“I welcome the ratified agreement between the city and its firefighters’ union and its promise of a stable, productive working relationship with these city employees through Fiscal Year 2016,” Mayor Toni Harp said in a press statement issued at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The deal mirrors an oral agreement Kottage settled with the DeStefano administration last October. After Harp replaced Mayor John DeStefano in January, Kottage approached her administration about revisiting some terms of the deal. The conversations didn’t end up changing the deal firefighters approved.

“This is not a Harp contract,” Kottage said Monday; it represents negotiations made with DeStefano’s team. He said he plans to negotiate with Harp’s administration an extension of the contract that the union just settled, because it is due to expire in just two years. He said he would also broach the idea of making some changes to the contract after July 1, 2016.

“I believe both sides can do better,” he said. The contract includes giving up some pension benefits for new hires. “My goal would be to get some of those benefits back in the contract,” Kottage said.

The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 825, which represents 247 New Haven firefighters, had been holding out against making concessions that other unions made before them. Their contract ended up with elements similar to the city managers and police, which have already reached agreements. Kottage even openly criticized the police union for settling a similar deal.

Below are highlights of the contract, according to Kottage:

Pay. Firefighters, who make a $67,283 base salary per year plus overtime, would not get any retroactive pay raises for the time since their contract expired on June 30, 2011. Whenever the contract is approved, firefighters would get a 3 percent raise, followed by a 2.5 percent raise on July 1, 2014, and another 2.5 percent raise the following year.

Health care. In a first for a city union, all active firefighters would make a big switch in the way they get health insurance. They’ll change from a conventional health care plan to a health savings account with a deductible of $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families.

Some unions offer HSAs as an option, but the fire union would be the first to switch all active members to HSAs. In an HSA, the employee and employer stash money in an account that’s set aside for medical care. Instead of forking over a co-pay at the doctor’s office, workers have to shell out for the deductible. After that, additional medical costs are paid for by drawing down from their HSA. The working assumption behind the HSA is that workers will spend less money on health care if they consider the money to be their own.

The city will help seed the HSAs by putting in $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for firefighters with families this year. That’s 65 percent of the deductible. Next year, the city will pay 50 percent.

Firefighters would pay 13.5 percent of the monthly payments instead of 16.5 percent, as they currently do. Under their current plan, a Century Preferred PPO, firefighters with families pay $88 per week in premiums; under the HSA they would pay $50 per week towards the cost of the HSA, Kottage said.

Pensions. Following changes made by the police union, the fire union would give up some pension benefits for new employees. New hires would no longer have overtime pay included in the calculations for their pensions. They wouldn’t be able to cash in sick time for retirement benefits. And they’d have to wait 25 years to retire instead of 20.

All active firefighters would also increase their monthly pension contributions from 8.75 to 10 percent of their salaries upon ratification; then up to 11 percent on July 1.

Firefighters who have already retired wouldn’t see changes to their health care or pensions, Kottage said.

Clothing Allowance
Firefighters currently get a $520 allowance per year to buy clothing. They would give up that payment for 2014 and get it back in 2015.

Holiday pay. Firefighters get paid for 13 holidays per year. Under the new contract, they’d be paid for 10 hours per day on those days instead of the previous 12.

Mandatory staffing level. The fire union has agreed to make changes to a key clause in its contract that was settled seven years ago. The clause set a mandatory staffing level dictating the number of firefighters that must be on the job at any given time. Kottage said the union agreed to lower that number from 73 to 72. Because there are four work shifts, that equates to eliminating four positions, for a savings of $560,000 per year, Kottage said.

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posted by: Threefifths on March 11, 2014  8:42am

Health care. In a first for a city union, all active firefighters would make a big switch in the way they get health insurance. They’ll change from a conventional health care plan to a health savings account with a deductible of $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families.

You all have sold your souls to wall street with this.


Health savings accounts: just another greedy corporate scam.


https://theconversation.com/health-savings-accounts-just-another-greedy-corporate-scam-3970


Why Health Savings Accounts are a rip-off.

http://finaw.blogspot.com/2011/02/how-health-savings-accounts-are-rip-off.html

posted by: robn on March 11, 2014  10:15am

3/5,

One of the articles you pasted is from Australia and the other from 2011. It would be interesting to see a critique of HSAs given the implementation of Obamacare and some of the protections it provides (like no DQ for pre-existing conditions…seems like a major crit of HSAs is culling.)

posted by: DingDong on March 11, 2014  10:30am

Is a copy of the contract available somewhere?

[I don’t have a copy. I’ll ask for one; also it will be submitted to the BOA soon.—MB]

posted by: Threefifths on March 11, 2014  10:40am

@ Robin.Are you for HSA.Did you read this one.

Why Health Savings Accounts are a rip-off


The problems are:
The annual contribution limit for tax purposes is less than the out of pocket maximum in the insurance plans.  So, if you go over your out of pocket limit due to large claims, you cannot recover all the money you spend. You can theoretically recover it in future years, but you need to have enough leftover unspent money in future years to do it then.  (The current annual funding limit is around $7,000 for a family).
The premiums for the HSA plans are not comparatively lower than traditional PPO plans to the extent that you take on additional risk; In short, the insurance companies quickly absorbed the difference by ratcheting premiums back up, so the plans were essentially a Trojan Horse for implementing higher deductibles without offsetting rate reductions for the policyholders.
There is no individual out of pocket limit as there is in a PPO plan, only a family limit.  If you have family coverage, this is a very bad deal.  Be careful: because the spreadsheets that insurance companies use to compare HSA and PPO plans imply that there is an individual limit.You need enough leftover money to actually put money into the HSA savings account; the point of the whole scheme.You need to pay for your high deductible before any insurance kicks in, that means you “front” more of the first-dollar claims cash, compared to a PPO plan.The rip-off comes in, is that the HSA accounts themselves are a bad deal; and a boondoggle for the banks that hold the accounts.  They have all sorts of fees – account set up fees, low balance fees, and the usual checking account type of fees.  Also the rate of interest you earn is ridiculously low, like passbook savings account low. The fees add up to a couple hundred dollars per year, and you must keep a minimum balance sitting in the account or will get sucked dry with a monthly fee.

This is what happens when wall street is in control.

posted by: Lisa on March 11, 2014  11:06am

So - a single firefighter has to pay the first $2,000 before the “insurance” kicks in?  Am I understanding this correctly?

posted by: FacChec on March 11, 2014  11:47am

@ Lisa:
“March 11, 2014 11:06am
So - a single firefighter has to pay the first $2,000 before the “insurance” kicks in?  Do I understand this correctly?

Ans: Yes and no. Here is the interpretation according to the article.

“The city will help seed the HSAs by putting in $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for firefighters with families this year. That’s 65 percent of the deductible. Next year, the city will pay 50 percent.

Ans: The city will pay 65% of the 2 or 4000K deductible in the first year, 50% in the second year.

“Firefighters would pay 13.5 percent of the monthly payments instead of 16.5 percent, as they currently do. Under their current plan, a Century Preferred PPO, firefighters with families pay $88 per week in premiums; under the HSA they would pay $50 per week towards the cost of the HSA, Kottage said”.

Ans: Firefighters are also getting a 3% reduction in their monthly premium.

The city is calming a savings of 2M in insurance only to give it back in the particulars mentioned above.

A reduction of 4 positions, when there are 376 minimum guaranteed positions, and where at all times there are at least 100 vacant positions, which are used to feed overtime.

Clearly the union wins hands down, the new firefighters may have to work 25 years instead of 20, but who cares, 80% of the fire calls are 911 emergencies anyway.

The taxpayers lose again

posted by: robn on March 11, 2014  11:51am

3/5,

I still don’t completely understand them so I’m neither for or against them.

I’m not sure but I think your article is saying that a family’s tax deduction is limited, not the coverage itself. This seems standard for a pre-tax savings program.

What’s high or low I can’t argue, but the purpose of a deductible is to make people thoughtful about when they use medical care. I do know that $50/wk puts the cost at the very low end of the Obamacare pay spectrum. You can see that HERE

posted by: Shanti on March 11, 2014  12:46pm

$520 in yearly clothing allowance? Seriously?
That represents EXACTLY why municipalities are in serious financial trouble. I’ve worked since I was 16 years old and no one has ever given me a clothing allowance.
Take the allowance away, permanently. Taxpayers deserve such REAL strategies for savings.

posted by: Think About It on March 11, 2014  1:20pm

@FacChek—you don’t even have any of your facts truly correct, so your assumption is hilariously way off base.  The medical went from being $26k/yr to $19k/ yr, so how is the union winning all around?  The city wins, and the union wins, because both monthly premiums go down. 

And you apparently have no clue about Department Staffing, why current levels are where they are, and how there will be almost no overtime once all the classes are hired and into the rank & file.  You must be one of those that blames the worker for how the managers mismanage it—cute! There have not been 376 people in fully-funded budgeted position for years—probably closer to 20 years.  Positions have been left in the budget for $1—most are administrative jobs—so do your “fact-checking” with facts, not uniformed deceit.  Trust me when I say, the workers are being burned out, operating exhausted, and YOU, as you sit back all smug, will be a person who will not be happy or sold until one of them dies at a fire due to understaffing, lack of high level training—think Charleston, S.C.—except here its the ex-Mayor

Lisa   YES! and still has to pay other copays for certain items.

Shanti—first off—“uniform allotment” is a misnomer.  The money can also be used to assist the firefighters in purchasing large dollar items like flashlights ($180), Jackets ($150), Firefighting Gloves ($100), Helmets ($550), Firefighting Boots ($400), Station Boots ($150-300), and on top of that the over-priced “Firefighter Clothing” that is needed—jacked up price of course.  When was the last time your workbooks cost $400, and your gloves cost $100, a new $180 flashlight, because yours just broke at a fire or other emergency, and won’t be replaced by the department.  Do you go through them in a 6 mos, a year, maybe two? Doubt it! Trust me when I say—the members of the fire department shell out far more annually than you do, and they do most of it out of their own pocket, not this petty “uniform allotment.”

posted by: Rivertostate on March 11, 2014  2:05pm

Fac check,
Where do you see the firefighters “getting” anything.

1. Firefighters are now in a less desirable health plan that saves the city money. The PPO plan is significantly more expensive than the HDHP plus the firefighters will have to fund 50% of there deductible out of pocket (HSA) That is why you see the reduction in cost share. Be clear here the city is saving quite a bit of money with this shift. Plus they will be avoiding the Obamacare “Cadillac” tax on high end health plans that is coming.

2. New hires have reduced pension benefits

3. Firefighters lost 26 hours holiday pay.

4. Union lost 4 positions and reduced manning.

5. Firefighters lost annual uniform allowance for 2014

6. Firefighters took zero raises for 2 years and no retro pay for the raise they are getting.

Again I’ll ask, what did the union get for these concessions? All I see is a menial 8% pay increase over 5 years or 1.6% a year.

Be reasonable, firefighters have taken the bullet again for years of mismanagement, corruption, political favors, and the liberal social politics of New Haven.

Personally… I think they got screwed….

And Shanti, the “clothing” allowance is actually a uniform allowance that the members purchase station wear or equipment they use personally while on duty. You know… The uniforms the firefighters wear while at work. Last I knew when an employer requires you to be in uniform the employer provides that uniform. Ask the Dunkin Donuts cashier if he pays for his shirt out of his pocket..

posted by: FacChec on March 11, 2014  2:47pm

@ posted by: Think About It on March 11, 2014 1:20pm

I took you advise and doubled checked the facs:
You said:
“And you apparently have no clue about Department Staffing, why current
levels are where they are, and how there will be almost no overtime once all.”

Response:
See page 3-21 of the current 13/14 budget.
Full time positions 12/13 - 376, 13/14 - 376.
comments: “$1.1M increase in overtime - assumes current salary level and class of 50 for the whole year”.

Overtime 12/13 budget year - 247 fighter fighters earned an average $90K in salary plus overtime;
one firefighter - made $141K
DIVITO   RYAN - salary   75,372.00 - residence EAST HAVEN Rank: - FIRE LIEUTENANT
Earned:$141,494.19.

Facs checked.

What?

posted by: FacChec on March 11, 2014  3:04pm

posted by: Rivertostate on March 11, 2014 2:05pm
You said:
Be reasonable, firefighters have taken the bullet again for years of mismanagement, corruption, political favors, and the liberal social politics of New Haven.
“Personally… I think they got screwed….”

Really! you mean to tell us the FF voted 5-1 overwhelmingly, to take a screwing.. I seriously doubt that!

This budget year, Kottage and the union cried belatedly about the city creating Lieutenant promotions before captain promotions, you went away quietly on this during negotiations.

In the Mayor’s proposed 2014/15 budget she proposes to eliminate 11 Lieutenant positions outright and your union has not uttered a peeping sound. So just what are your priorities???

posted by: Threefifths on March 11, 2014  3:34pm

To all do the research.HSAs were established as part of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 8, 2003. They were developed to replace the Medical Savings Account system.Some consumer organizations, such as Consumers Union, and many medical organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, oppose HSAs because, in their opinion, they benefit only healthy, younger people and make the health care system more expensive for everyone else. According to Stanford economist Victor Fuchs, “The main effect of putting more of it on the consumer is to reduce the social redistributive element of insurance.One industry study matched HSA account holders to the neighborhood income (“neighborhood” was defined as their census tract from the 2000 Census) and found that 3% of account holders lived in “low-income” neighborhoods (median incomes below $25,000 in 1999 dollars), 46% lived in lower-middle-income neighborhoods (median incomes between $25,000 and $50,000), 34% lived in middle-income neighborhoods (median incomes between $50,000 and $75,000), 12% lived in upper-income neighborhoods (median incomes between $75,000 and $100,000) and 5% lived in higher income neighborhoods (median incomes above $100,000).In testimony before the US Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Health in 2006, advocacy group Commonwealth Fund said that all evidence to date shows that health savings accounts and high-deductible health plans worsen, rather than improve, the US health system’s problems.HSA funds that are not held in savings accounts insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation are subject to market risk, as is any other investment. While the potential upside from investment gains can be viewed as a benefit, the subsequent downside, as well as the possibility of capital loss, may make the HSA a poor option.

For me I would not touch this plan with a Ten foot pole.

posted by: Rivertostate on March 11, 2014  4:32pm

Well FacCheck,
I’ll start off by saying I have no horse in this race. Other than the fact that I know what a great job NHFD does and that I think it’s a travesty that people like yourself try to put the financial woes of this city on the backs of its employees. So you may say I am a conscientious observer.

Go to a firehouse and poll the members. You may be surprised. This contract was basically forced down there throats with the threat of arbitration and losing more than they did hanging over there heads. There are NO positives in this contract! They got nothing. Yet you say “the taxpayers lose again”. Pathetic

As far as budgeted Lieutenant positions being removed from the budget. I do not know enough to comment so anything would be speculation.

But I will comment on Lt DiVito’s salary you so kindly posted.
It appears Lt DiVito has spent a lot of time away from his family, nights-weekends-holidays, to earn a substantial salary while protecting the citizens of New Haven. But those those 2 numbers alone don’t tell the story. You decline to mention the salary, health care, pension, holiday pay, uniforms, stipends that the city is saving from 100+ vacancies. Subtract that number from the overtime total for a true picture of the OT cost. Plus most of that OT is being paid at straight time. Sometimes it is actually advantageous for a municipality who uses FLSA time to leave a certain number of vacancies and pay the overtime.

And on top of all that… The union did not create this mess. Your corrupt elected officials did trying to play race politics back in 2004 and all of this comes directly out of that.
You can FacCheck all you like… Lines in a budget are just letters and numbers. It’s not all black and white my friend…

posted by: Ryan DiVito on March 12, 2014  8:17am

At least I know that someone cares about me enough to mention me in a comment.  And they even spelled my name the right way.  It is easy to talk about other people when you hide behind an alias.  Just keep making the comments because it really does entertain me.

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