The city’s firefighters union is taking to court the statewide union it says it broke ties with over two years ago.
New Haven’s International Association of Fire Fighters Local 825 announced in Hartford that it has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to reaffirm its break from the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut and to stop that organization from continuing to attempt to collect membership dues. The local union also asks the state union to return more than $96,000 that it claims was misappropriated.
Local 825 President Frank Ricci said that despite his executive board voting unanimously to terminate its membership in the UPFFA back in 2016, the state union continues to bill the local union. The statewide union has even allegedly sent a collection agency after Local 825 for bills that total more than $52,000.
“State union bureaucrats are trying to pick the pockets of New Haven firefighters,” Ricci said. “UPFFA betrayed our trust and they refuse to honor our decision to end our membership.”
In addition to the dispute over the membership bill, Ricci said, the lawsuit alleges that UPFFA misappropriated more than $96,000 in membership dues that were to be earmarked for legislative purposes but were instead used for general union expenses, collective bargaining grievances for other unions, and alleged lavish travel for statewide union President Pete Carozza. An attempt to reach Carozza was unsuccessful Tuesday.
“Since voting to leave, we have received a bill,” Ricci said. “We have repeatedly asked them to drop this issue, respect our choice. Stop sending us bills for dues we do not owe.”
Ricci said Local 825 terminated its membership in UPFFA because of “a lack of clear leadership, a lack of clear representation at the capitol, and the costs are far too high.”
Local 825 has teamed up with the Fairness Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm that provides free legal services to those hurt by public employee union leaders and attorney Craig Fishbein, who also happens to be a state representative for Wallingford and Cheshire to file the suit in Superior Court.
“This case is about basic fairness,” Fishbein said. “It’s about the misappropriation of $96,000.”
Ricci is no stranger to the courts. He was the name plaintiff in Ricci v. DeStefano, a lawsuit challenging New Haven’s (and many fire departments’) affirmative-action policies in promotional exams. The suit went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ricci’s side won, setting a precedent for how departments should conduct promotions. Ricci subsequently testified about the case in D.C. at U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.