Bridgeport still negotiating givebacks

Bridgeport still negotiating givebacks

Posted in the Trumbull Forum

bptnews

Matawan, NJ

#1 Mar 29, 2014
BRIDGEPORT -- A year after Mayor Bill Finch again called for city workers to sacrifice to balance the budget, the administration is still negotiating hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of givebacks.

"The good news is there is still time in the budget year left," said Adam Wood, Finch's chief of staff. "It's never an easy process asking someone to give up a negotiated benefit or a salary."

Finch, a Democrat elected in 2007, in his first term obtained more than $20 million in concessions.

Last April, he proposed a 2013-14 budget that included $1.6 million in givebacks -- an amount the City Council increased to $2 million to help lower the mayor's proposed tax hike.

So far,$702,437 of that hole has been plugged, while Finch will release a 2014-15 budget April 7.

"We're I would say very close to finalizing agreements with many other unions," Wood said, adding that negotiating laws prevent him from commenting further. Wood said no layoff ultimatums have been issued.

Last June, the administration urged employees to take 6.5 unpaid furlough days during the fiscal year.

This month, the firefighters' union -- the city's second largest -- agreed to $460,000 worth of concessions as part of a four-year contract extension to be approved by the City Council.

But before then, the city had announced just three deals, including one with a 14-member union and another with workers who have no bargaining power. Those unaffiliated employees, including the mayor's staff, took furlough days representing $138,745 in savings.

Then in late December, the 80-member Laborers International Union of North America voted to take 6.5 furlough days worth around $91,000. In exchange, they were allowed to spread half into the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The mayor's office has also announced concessions with 14 Teamsters totaling $12,692.

Since furlough days are impractical for emergency personnel, David Dobbs, a fire union vice president, said the union adopted a new shift schedule, will forgo a uniform allowance for a year and deferred some holiday pay. "It was the union's position this was a pretty responsible way to achieve the savings," he said. "It in no way reduces the service we provide."

From the start, the firefighters' union signaled it was open to giveback talks. Last April, the organization in a letter to the Connecticut Post thanked Finch "for crafting a budget proposal that successfully avoids major cuts to public safety and emergency personnel" without company and firehouse closings.

Other union leaders say they have already given enough to the Finch administration.

Kevin Murphy, director of collective bargaining for the state branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said when it comes to Bridgeport, "We're not interested in any furloughs." He also said the city has not been "open-minded" about other ideas.

AFSCME represents about 130 employees in what Murphy said is a sorely depleted public facilities department. "Our people live in Bridgeport, too," he said, noting members get hit twice, with concessions and tax hikes. "How many times can you go back to the well?"

With Finch about to reveal his proposed 2014-15 budget, that remains a question. "At this point in the budget process, it's not our intention to request additional concessions from unions or other parties," Wood said. "However, with a number of variables remaining unknown, which includes funding from the state level, we cannot definitively rule out anything as of right now."

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