New Haven’s police officers defied a last-minute appeal from their firefighting brethren and voted more than 2-1 Wednesday to approve a new five-year contract with the city.
The new contract, retroactive to July 1, 2011, gives the force a 9 percent raise over the five years. The city won some givebacks in health and retirement benefits.
The voting took place by paper ballot all day in the second-floor gym at 1 Union Ave.
The voting began at 6:30 a.m. and closed at 7 p.m. A three-member committee then conducted an old-fashioned hand-count of the ballots downstairs in the first-floor traffic office.
Committee head Officer S. D. Broder Jr. emerged from the office at 7:40 to announce the results: 247 yes, 109 no.
And no hanging chads.
Turnout was high (413 officers were eligible to vote), as were tensions. Younger cops in particular objected to givebacks that for the most part did not affect longer-serving officers.
The vote was a big victory for Police Union Local 530 President Louis Cavaliere, Jr. He appealed to the membership during two heated three-hour-plus union meetings at the Marchegian Club last week to take what he called a fair offer that preserves 80 percent of benefits rather than risk losing much more in arbitration. A union attorney, Dan Esposito, told the membership he believed arbitration—a winner-take-all process—was a bad bet. New Haven ranks 166th out of 169 Connecticut municipalities in ability to pay future retiree and health benefits, he reported. And though arbitration has historically favored labor, in the current economic hard times cops and firefighter in even wealthy towns like Cheshire and Greenwich have been losing.
Nervous about the outcome, Cavaliere (at left in photo) worked a wad of chewing tobacco as he awaited the results.
He was relieved afterwards. But he didn’t exult.
“We’re exhausted. This was a great job [by the union executive and negotiating teams]. It was a democracy; the membership has voted,” said Cavaliere (pictured with Sgt. Richard Miller).
“[But] it doesn’t feel like a big victory. I wish it would have been unanimous.”
Then he swore a few more times about his counterparts at the fire union. He was angry about an 11th-hour public push by the fire union to convince cops to vote no. (Read about that here.) The fire department has opted to take its contract to arbitration rather than accept the city’s proposed givebacks. A no vote from the police might have brought more momentum to the firefighters’ cause, perhaps providing leverage for pushing the city to settle on more generous terms to avoid following through with arbitration.
The vote was also a victory for the DeStefano administration, which has been seeking pension and medical givebacks from unions in a slew of negotiations.
“In this environment, it was tough to come up with a fair contract. This was a fair contract,” city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts said after the vote Wednesday night. He said the contract preserves good benefits for cops while helping the city rein in long-term liabilities.
Among the contract’s highlights:
• No raise will take place retroactively for the fiscal year July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. Cops’ pay will rise 3 percent in the current fiscal year, 0 percent the follow year, 3 percent each of the final two years.
• New officers will have to wait 25 years to retire. All others can still retire after 20 years. A change will take place affecting how much sick time cops can cash out upon retiring. Right now a cop who retires after 20 years can cash in another five years and qualify for more generous 25-year retirement benefits. Beginning with cops who currently have nine years or less on the job, that number will drop from five to three years.
• Monthly health premiums will rise for officers who retire after 2014. All retirees currently pay a flat $135 monthly health premium, a sweeter deal than is enjoyed by cops in other Connecticut cities, according to Cavaliere. Starting in 2015, retirees will pay the same premium they were paying at the time they retired—say, $250 a month. That premium will rise 6 percent a year—say, $12 to $20 a month. But it will be capped at $500.
• Current officers will pay higher medical costs. If they stick with their current plan, a typical officer on the family plan will go from paying around $62 a week to about $150 a week for insurance. However, the contract offers them the option to move to a new plan that would raise the weekly amount to around $86. The new plan will raise the co-pay for doctor visits from $5 to $15. And unlike the current plan it does not cover non-emergency medical visits out of state.
“The young people [on the force] are not sure what the future will bring,” observed Sgt. Anthony Zona, a former union official who oversees the Fair Haven policing district. On the other hand, many more experienced cops considered arbitration a “no-win situation, especially in this economy. The city’s broke.”
Mayoral Chief of Staff Sean Matteson said the contract will save the city a little money this fiscal year. Far bigger long-term savings will kick in starting next fiscal year, he said.
The DeStefano administration recently reached contract agreements with its school paraprofessional and city clerical unions containing health givebacks, and pension givebacks in the case of the clerical workers. It is still in negotiations with four other unions whose contracts have expired. It has reached an impasse with two other unions, representing public works and fire employees; those contracts have gone to arbitration.
One irony: The fire union endorsed Mayor John DeStefano for reelection in 2011. The police union didn’t.