Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Common Council Refuses to Approve Union Contract
A gallery packed with union members from Local 466 interested in the outcome of their recently ratified contract were disappointed and angry when the Common Council immediately descended into partisan bickering over the timing of the contract approval.
Republicans argued strongly that the Council should take up debate and approval of the contract recently negotiated by Mayor Sebastian Giuliano while Democrats spoke strongly against any contract which includes a pay increase in dire financial times.
Councilman Vincent Loffredo, visibly angry, insisted that the contract should have been reviewed by the personnel committee before it made its way to the Council, and that there was no time pressure to approve the contract immediately.
"I have a fiduciary responsibility as a member of this board," he said. "And I take it very seriously. We need to consider all facts before we move forward."
His sentiments were echoed by nearly all Democrats on the Council.
On the other hand, Republicans expressed the opinion that the contract was fair, offered only a modest increase in pay, and that the union, in accepting a small increase, set an example for other town unions. The union agreed to a 1-2% pay increase. This increase comes after 2-3 years with no cost-of-living increase.
"The mayor stepped up to the plate and got a definitive number," Councilman Phil Pessina said. He explained that having the actual amount of the increase in hand, department directors could present accurate budgets to the mayor and the Council.
"The Board of Education budget relies, on this," Giuliano explained. "The Russell Library budget depends on this. The idea is to have a hard number for the city budget. Given what we're facing, to be able to go in with a real number is not precipitious."
Democrats argued that considering Governor Jodi Rell's speech to the state just prior to the Council meeting, the city would be better off waiting for her budget to determine how the city would fare.
The union members applauded each Republican speech defending the contract, and when the Council finally voted, along party lines, to reject consideration of the contract, union members rose noisily and left the room.
"I wasn't happy with what I saw in there," Union president Jeff Daniels said outside council chambers. "The union negotiated in good faith. The Council members had the numbers, the union stepped up, and now we're told we have to wait for a decision."