July 8, 2008

Aldermen Give Union Contract Recommendations

By William Kaempffer and Maria Garriga, New Haven Register, Conn.

Jul. 8--NEW HAVEN -- As the city administration and police union negotiate a new labor contract, a group of aldermen -- in what the aldermen and union described as an unprecedented move -- issued a letter detailing what they want to see in the new pact.

The letter, signed by 22 of the 30-person board, stopped short of making demands, but asked the two sides to "give serious consideration" to recommendations that would significantly alter officers' pension contributions and eligibility, work schedules and other items the union likely won't give up without a fight, or at least something in return from the city.

"We are the ultimate authority to approve this contract," said Alderman Roland Lemar, D-9, who is leading the push for the changes. Lemar acknowledged that aldermen have not become so involved in contract negotiations in the past, but since they have had to approve numerous tax increases driven by the rising costs, they needed to deal with the costs at the source.

"We have been approving tax increases. These costs -- pensions and health -- are driving our budget costs exponentially. Here is where we take action," Lemar said.

AldermanMordechaiSandman, D-28, who assisted in drafting the letter, said members who signed seek a voice in negotiations, not a seat at the table, during a difficult financial time for the city.

"This will be the first in a series of contracts that are up for renewal and we feel that it will create a new template," the aldermanic letter says, also stating the changes would increase efficiency at the department and "avoid bankrupting the city."

Sgt. Louis G. Cavaliere, the union president, inferred a veiled ultimatum in that statement.

"I'm reading that as to say if they don't get their 'serious consideration,' we might as well take the highway to arbitration," he said. "I'm not going to be held hostage by people with all of their demands."

But Sandman said the signatories "aren't threatening anybody" but "want to make sure, with all clarity, that we have a voice in the process."

It might not be May and June, when the board typically wrangles with the proposed budget, he said, "but in fact, this is a contract negotiation that's going to affect the next three budgets that the city carries forth."

The current contract expired June 30 and typical pacts last four years retroactive to the expiration date.

Aldermen want the next contract to require officers to work a minimum of 20 actual years before they can retire or take advantage of a pension "buy back" provision. The existing contract requires 20 years, but the "buy back" allows officers with as few as 15 years to trade in unused sick time in for pension credit. They also recommend capping pensions at 100 percent of an officer's base salary. Ninety-six officers made $100,000 or more last year and pension calculations are based on percentages of top earning years. Also sought is a "bad boy" clause to revoke a pension for an officer found guilty of a workrelated felony while preserving protections for the officer's spouse. Others include: increasing base pay for incoming police officers and changing officers' work schedules from "5-2, 5-3," meaning five-day work weeks with alternative weeks of two and three days off. The aldermen want a "5-2, 5-2" format.

Sandman said, by his calculation, the change in schedule would add 17 more officers per shift, 50 more per day.

"I personally think this is one of the most important things we can do," he said.

Cavaliere, meanwhile, said he isn't against sitting at the negotiating table and discussing proposals, but questioned whether there was some "bad faith negotiating" behind the letter.

The union and city signed a letter of understanding at the beginning of negotiations agreeing not to disclose proposals to the media during talks, and four of the recommendations were almost verbatim to proposals the city currently has on the table, he said.

Rob Smuts, the city's chief administrative officer, said he didn't think conversations about what is on the table is "necessarily just coming from the city."

As for the letter, Smuts said the board routinely expresses views on budgetary matters.


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