In Bridgeport, no deal on concessions
Posted in the Trumbull Forum
#1 Dec 15, 2013
BRIDGEPORT -- Some unionized employees are feeling anxious, and it has nothing to do with holiday stress.
They're worried about holding onto their jobs heading into the new year.
Almost halfway through the fiscal year, and Mayor Bill Finch and Bridgeport's municipal workers have yet to agree on where to find $2 million worth of concessions that helped balance the 2013-14 budget.
"Do we expect layoff notices? I'm sure that's a possibility," said Cory Bromley, incoming business manager for the Laborers International Union of North America, which represents around 85 middle-managers. "I think most of our members are a little worried about that."
In April, Finch, a Democrat in the middle of his second term, proposed a budget that called for $1.6 million in employee givebacks.
The Democratic-majority City Council increased that to $2 million to help lower the mayor's proposed tax hike.
Then in June, the administration made the formal "ask" of the city's dozen bargaining units, suggesting most could help achieve that $2 million if each member took 6.5 unpaid furlough days.
But having already given millions of dollars in concessions to Finch since he was elected in 2007, some rank-and-file members were feeling tapped out.
It doesn't help that the administration has racked up some controversial expenses this year, from the $400,000 driveway for developer Manuel "Manny" Moutinho and his neighbors, to $95,000 in raises for mayoral staffers, department heads and others, to, most recently,$8,000 to mail birthday cards from Finch to residents 60 and older.
So, according to several employees -- some who did not want their names used -- the unions offered alternatives, and have heard nothing in return.
"We've not been approached and we haven't had any discussions," said Larry Dorman, spokesman for the American Federation of State, Council and Municipal Employees Council 4, which represents 150 Bridgeport workers.
One popular suggestion was for the administration to eliminate budgeted but still-vacant positions.
Although it was unclear for this story how much savings that would achieve, it is well known the mayor's office has been slow to sign off on some new hires. And Finch himself, at a recent public appearance where the topic of adding to his lean redevelopment office was broached, declared, "It's not going to happen. We are going to have to find ways around it. Cities can't afford the pensions and the lifetime health benefits of adding more staff (and) we aren't going to be raising taxes to do this. It's just not going to happen."
A city staffer affiliated with the National Association of Government Employees, which represents around 550 Bridgeport workers, said that union made the administration a counteroffer: Members will take the furlough days if the city gives them a raise in the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014.
"It was more or less like a loan and you'll pay it back to us," said the NAGE member.
Back in December 2008, Finch and NAGE did the same dance. The latter accused the administration of refusing to talk, and the city went ahead and issued layoff notices to 51 NAGE members, which jump-started discussions.
"The only conversation we should be having is how to make sure residents of Bridgeport have the best possible services," Dorman said.
Finch spokesman Elaine Ficarra, in a statement for this report, said it is not the administration's practice to comment on ongoing union negotiations. But, Ficarra added,
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