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Selectmen Probe Firefighter Contract Negotiations

A Jan. 2011 Memorandum of Understanding that should have been presented to and ratified by the RTM wasn't, and now restricts arbitration for the 2010-2013 contracts.

“Confidence in the system” -- as Selectman James Walsh put it at Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting -- has been shaken again, following in the wake of the .

Research into the negotiations for the revealed that former First Selectman Kenneth Flatto did not follow proper procedure when it came to a Jan. 24, 2011 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Town and the Firefighters Union, according to labor relations attorney Patrick McHale, who is representing the town in arbitration over the contract.

According to state statute and the Town Charter, the RTM is required to ratify any contracts or documents that commit the Town to a financial obligation (in this case, the contract involves wages and pension), and this MOU is no exception. But the RTM never saw the MOU and so did not act upon it within the given 44-day window, McHale said.

Since the RTM did not reject the MOU, it became binding, and now severely restricts the issues subject to arbitration, according to McHale. The RTM had initially rejected the contract in 2010, which lead to the need for arbitration and the MOU.

McHale said he spoke to Flatto after discovering the MOU, and that Flatto said he felt the settlement was fair and wanted to keep arbitration simple.

“When the RTM rejected the 2010 agreement, it had no idea of the restrictions that resulted in this MOU,” McHale said.

The MOU essentially states that, except for three issues, the agreements reached by the Town and the Firefighters Union in July 2010 remain in effect for the duration of the contract. The three issues that can be negotiated in arbitration are:

  • Sick leave: The Union wishes to allot 30 days of sick leave to firefighters who have worked 10 or more years; and 20 days of sick leave to firefighters on the force for five to 10 years. The town wants to allot 12 days of sick leave to all employees who have been on the force for at least a year.
  • Wages: There was a pay freeze the first year of the contract (2010-2011), a 2 percent wage increase in the second year (2011-2012), and currently in place a 2.75 percent wage increase for the third year (2012-2013). The town wants to decrease the 2.75 increase, while the union would like to increase it, McHale said.
  • Pension: The Town wants to implement a 401(a) type contribution plan for all new hires employed after the start date of the contract; the Union does not want to include the new pension language.

All other aspects of the contract -- medical and dental plans, minimum manpower -- are not up for debate and can’t be discussed or negotiated in arbitration, McHale said.

The discovery spurred First Selectman Michael Tetreau to add a report on the progress of the contract negotiations and the discovery of the MOU to Wednesday’s agenda in an effort to provide more transparency on the subject.

He also hopes to improve the process of approving contracts by giving the RTM more warning and information before the body is expected to vote on the settlements.

“There is no excuse,” Tetreau said. “We want to make sure this kind of thing never happens again.

The negotiating team of Pat, Mary [Mirylees, human resources director] and myself are holding very formal negotiations to avoid this off-the-record, who-knew-what-when type of negotiation.”

There is no personal penalty or recourse for the breach of procedure, though Walsh pursued the line of questions. McHale said there is nothing in the Town Charter to address the situation, to which Walsh replied that perhaps it’s time to revise the Charter.

According to state statute, however, the municipality is at fault for the breach in that the legislative body now has no opportunity “to voice its opinion on something that costs money,” McHale said. And now the terms of the MOU are binding.

“It’s extremely upsetting to be sitting here having this conversation again,” Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey said. “These are really significant issues that affect all of us and drive up the budget.”

Tetreau said that the contract in its current from -- the agreement reached in July 2010, plus the MOU -- will be presented to the RTM at its February meeting.

Chuck E. Arla February 02, 2012 at 04:44 PM
For the umpteenth time: where the hell is the Attorney General? The Secretary of State? The State's Attorney (aka the prosecutors)? The Duplicitous Duo have swindled this Town repeatedly and there are absolutely no consequences for them?
John Jameson February 02, 2012 at 04:55 PM
What is "Reg.FD" that you refer to?
steve sheppard February 02, 2012 at 04:58 PM
John Doe....I don't think anybody wants to nickle and dime the police and fire as they are an important part of the quality of life in Fairfield. My problem is that we have a SWAT team, Anti-terror police boat, and a whole host of things that are expensive to have and are probably not necessary for us as a town. On top of these we do seem to have an unrealistic pension system in place. I look at the starting salary of police in NYC, which is about 30% lower than us. I would be more than happy to put who ever in touch with the NYC Police Benevolent Society. They are always looking to place police officers in jobs outside of NYC and I would bet that we could replace a huge percentage of our police with out any problems. So I beg to differ with John Doe regarding police pay. I know a police officer that makes over $100,000 a year and has worked on the force for about 7 or 8 years.
steve sheppard February 02, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Regulation Fair Disclosure was enacted to force CEO's, Mayors, Presidents, Governors, of any entity that issues publicly traded securities (we have muni bonds) to be fully transparent. They have to sign off on Reg. FD that they are compliant with it. If it turns out they are not compliant then they can be held personally liable for their actions.
mark February 02, 2012 at 05:09 PM
No one questions their Bravery or work ethic,no one wants you not to have retired income but we need to look at other cost effective avenues. And 401k is one way maybe a permanent insurance is another but i don't want to be taken to the bank, and force to move out of town in my seniors Years witch are approaching fast because i was part of the silent majority.
John Doe February 02, 2012 at 05:29 PM
The police boat was purchase on a grant if I'm not mistaken, but yes there are maintenance cost. The SWAT team is something you hope to never use and seems like a waste but what about that time you may need it. That's like saying why do cops in Fairfield carry guns...because they MAY need it. As far as pay is concerned I said BASE salary. Any patrol officer that makes over $70,000 in a year has done so as a result of a lot of over time, must of which is obtained by working for untility companies that PAY for the cop. I am very close to several officers and firefighters in town. They work their a$$es off to make their money and support their families. If most of them did not work overtime then they could not support them. Does town hall really need new cedar shingles, do we have to pave every road every summer, do school busses have to stop every block thus making their routes longer, do we need another train station? No, but a town MUST spend the money for all these things in order to make it the town that we all want to live it. There are better ways to budget money...I just don't think taking it from vital services is necessary.
tellingthetruth February 02, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I could not agree with you more. Does Fairfield Woods Middle School really need a copper roof on the new addition? Isn’t that a little over top? As far as the SWAT team goes, yes Fairfield did have to use them in the past. Remember Fairfield University when 22 students and a professor were being held as hostages by Patrick Arbelo. The SWAT team was there.
mark February 02, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Steve your right that ex cop /is just twisting the conversation around that is what cops are trained to do.we replace streets and shingles because they need to be replaced.What is john doe talking about. He is just talking in circles. He or she needs to come out of the closet. Mark carroll Sr.
mark February 02, 2012 at 06:13 PM
tellingthetruth don't you have traffic duty
Caitlin Mazzola (Editor) February 02, 2012 at 06:29 PM
@mark: The end result is that the RTM is scheduled to vote on the contract they rejected in 2010 at their February meeting. The town was advised against going into arbitration based on the restrictions the MOU placed. The MOU is binding.
Caitlin Mazzola (Editor) February 02, 2012 at 06:30 PM
@steve: I'll see if Mr. McHale can speak to that -- I'll post what I find out in the comments.
Fairfield Family since 1641 February 02, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Mark - just for your info - fire and police retirement is based on their base pay not their yearly salary. The current pensinn systen that is in lace will actually be cheaper for the town because as of right now, fire and police don't pay into social security so to go to a 401K the town will have to pay 7% social security, and as other town unions, up to 4% matching for the 401k. Now add in disability insurance of a minimum of 3% you are looking at a 14% mandated contribution by the town where for ten years they didn't pay anything!!! People should get the facts before they push something on the town that the citizens can't afford.
steve sheppard February 02, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Caitlin....my understanding and I could be wrong is that if Reg FD is violated anything that was done is null and void. I am afraid a local attorney probably has no idea regarding Reg FD.
Anthony Buglino February 02, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Don't you all realize that Mary Carroll was in cahoots with Flatto and all of his union "negotiating" she is the catalyst.
steve sheppard February 02, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Anthony, Who is Mary Carroll. If she works for the town and facilitated Flatto with the MOU than that would be grounds for termination.
Anybody But February 02, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Where is the story on the $11 million to fix yet another school roof that was approved last night?
mark February 02, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Wayne Thanks for the input. so what your telling me is that fairfielders over funded the pension in previous years.So we didn't have to put in additional funds for quiote a few years.look Wayne it's not like were strangers.Pic up the phone and will talk this out. Respectfully Mark Carroll
mark February 02, 2012 at 07:26 PM
a needy roof has no place in a discussion about pensions stick to the topic.
Anthony Buglino February 02, 2012 at 07:30 PM
As written in the article she is the human resources director and has her hand in all union negotiations
Fairfield native February 02, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Most likely overtime attributes to that salary. No one in Colorado expected Columbine but it happened. I am happy to hear that they are exercising all caution and being realistic. Those that complain that we have unneeded and costly components to our departments will be the first to complain if something happened...why weren't we prepared.
John Doe February 03, 2012 at 12:21 AM
I'm trying to play devils advocate here. My point is why focus on cutting cost to out emergency resources when there are other areas in the towns budget that could use trimming more. And if you were referring to me as an ex cop you are way off base...I said I was close to cops and firefighters not that I was one. Also, as mentioned by another viewer, the new pension system is more convenient for the town in the short term but would end up costing more in the long term. Many other towns who have switched are now realizing that. And don't get me wrong, there are probably certain things within police and fire budgets that could be done without but lets not screw with the personnel. They should be paid more for what they do...their salaries arent even on par with similar towns such as Westport, Darien, etc. Even Stamford, a city, has a higher pay rate.
Hugh Dolan February 03, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Sorry, Ffld Resident. You must have missed all the conversation about the pensions and finances during the recent election. The Town of Fairfield is not Bankrupt. It is nor even on the edge of bankruptcy. As our Finance Director has said many times, the bond rating is one of the lowest in history. They don't give those rates to bankrupt towns. The Fairfield Fire and Police Pension is a fully funded pension plan. The plan was established, correctly and with proper planning, ages ago. It is fully funded by the contributions of the employees who work for the Town in those two departments ( full disclosure : I am one of them ) . Every week, the pension fund is bolstered, not by the taxpayers, but by the earnings of employees. This has been the case for many a year. In fact, the pensions were so well funded, that the former first selectman convinced the police and fire unions to Divert a portion of it's pension contribution into a fund to help the Town pay it's liabilities in other payroll accounts-- so that recent changes in Governmental accounting for health care would not impact the town's abliity to borrow. In adition, the Town's Chief Executive ( at the time ) went to the Pension Board requesting permission to grant certain employees percentage bonuses in their retirement if they leave their positions-- this so the town could hire lower paid people and retire higher paid people. ( continued )
Hugh Dolan February 03, 2012 at 04:15 AM
( Please read next comment first) So, Ffld Resident, the fully funded contributory pension plan is not bankrupting a quite solvent town. However, the employees of those departments are providing, every minute of every day, needed services. And out of their remuneration, they pay their pension. A 401( a) Would require the Town of Fairfield to: Firstly, pay the employer's share of mandatory Social Security taxes, for which they now skate. Add approx. 8 % of the entire salary of both departments ( Police and Fire ); Secondly, The town would have to fund a retirement program for injured/ disabled ( heart/ hypertension/ burns/ back, etc ) , currently paid out of the P&F Pension ; Thirdly, The Town's contribution to the 401 would require an additional expenditure , administrative costs, investment management costs, etc. These could run from 5-8 % , which the Town does not now pay; Fourthly-- what employer in their right mind would want to move it's employees from a fund that costs them precious little, is fully funded by the employees themselves, and is very solid because of that structure, and move his employees into the quagmire known as the 401 investment industry, where losses the past several years have been trillions; where security is virtually non-existant, and the employer's cost is Automatically increased by 16 % ? Cut away all the rhetoric, put the numbers to analysis, and you will see those clamoring for a 401 are misinformed and short sighted.
Hugh Dolan February 03, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Mark, I've talked to you about these things. I'm available to discuss .I've explained, above, the added and hidden costs entailed in moving to a 401 type plan. Please read that again. No-- Fairfielders did not over-fund the pension plan. Retired firefighters and Police officers, who died without collecting on the plan, have left their salary deposits in the plan, in addition to good, solid plan earnings ( I don't include Madoff ) . This is how well -established plans get well funded-- unfortunatly, some of the beneficiaries never collect. With a conversion to a 401, however, there will be a distinct point in which the town will absolutly have to make major contributions-- because( as proposed ) as new employees do not become part of the P&F ( existing ) plan, there will be less cash flowing in each year to fund current and near-term retirements. These negative cash inflows will require contributions by the town. You can calculate the present value of these neagtive cash inflows.over the next, say 60 years ( when most current plan members will pass away ) , and add these present value costs to the conversion costs delineated above. I would suggest you do this before you insist on change for the sake of change. We all wanr responsible and efficient government, but we can't just jump on the bandwagon and attack all employees and all workers.All of us are stakeholders-- and we need to leave the rhetoric behind and stick to the realities.
mark February 03, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Hugh you can pick up the phone and call me. But i would suggest to you not to try and throw me under the bus with a comment like i'm trying to attack all workers/ employees.you don't want to get into public p match with me about what i'm concern about trust me it wouldn't help your cause or mine. some of the issues we already have discussed in the past, but we can go over them again Mark Carroll
Blubby February 03, 2012 at 06:31 PM
"My problem is that we have a SWAT team, Anti-terror police boat, and a whole host of things that are expensive to have and are probably not necessary for us as a town". Sir, I tend to look at these as insurance, you have to pay for and maintain your insurance policy and it hurts. You hope you never need to to use it, but if you do need it you are sure glad you made those payments.
steve sheppard February 03, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Blubby....The rumor is that we got the anti-terror police boat because we were the only town that would take it. It has more high tech. gear than we will ever need and will have to keep up and running. Plus the cost of running it will be twice what the old one was when all is factored in and now we are in charge of a zone of L.I., my local tax dollars at work. Last I looked we have the same two small harbors we have always had. Years ago when the population of the town was the same as it is today we used to have one marine officer and now we have five. We also build a beautiful marine police station. When the Metro Center was on the drawing board the police wanted an axuillary police station there (I was on TPZ then and helped kill that one) I do not mean to pick on the marine division, but what I am saying is we have greatly expanded alot of different areas of our town body while at the same time the population is the same as it was in 1980. We have wonderful services that our police and fire provide. I just think we have to be smarter going forward and get back the basics.
John Doe February 04, 2012 at 11:40 PM
Actually, we have the boat because the Town and the PD APPLIED for the GRANT. Since the acquisition of the boat several towns along the LI Sound have inquired about how to get one as well. I have a friend in Milford who says their PD is looking into it. It was not a matter of..."hey heres a big fun boat to play with, who wants it?".
steve sheppard February 05, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Let's give them our boat...it's a got three engines of I forget 200 to 300 horsepower each, high tech gear that needs special training, if any of the special night vision or underwater cameras break they cost a boat load....lol...but true. Just go look up what the gear is on the boat and what it cost to replace and take care of...shocking. $485,000 boat for Fairfield population 59,000 compared to 1980 population 58,000 when we had one Marine officer. John Doe we have two small harbors....were not a shipping port for cargo or any industrial export import shipping.
John Doe February 05, 2012 at 10:44 AM
You are welcomed to your opinion Steve but, despite what you are saying, apparently the Federal, State, and Town Goverments found couse for Fairfield to need this equipment/boat. Times have changed since 1980. What most people in the town do not realize is that Fairfield is not the quaint and innocent town it is made out to be. Violent crimes occur almost everyday, two murder suspects were taken into custody within the last few months in town, gun have been found on people and in cars, drugs are rampant and I could go on (all published in the news). A Marine Boat, a SWAT team, etc....hopefully we never need them, but I sure would rather have them than not if the time ever came.

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