Published June 01. 2012 9:00AM Updated June 02. 2012 1:56PM
New London — The president of the International Association of Fire Fighters spoke privately to more than 40 members of the local union inside fire headquarters Friday morning but did not make any public statements.
Harold A. Schaitberger, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group, was in the area to attend a conference at Foxwoods Resort Casino and stopped by the Bank Street firehouse to rally behind the 25 city firefighters who received layoff notices last week.
"He came to show his support for the city of New London,'' Rocco Basilica, president of the local union, said after the brief visit. "He preached unity and said the community is behind us, the state is behind us, and the unions are behind us.''
Basilica said Schaitberger told them he was planning to meet with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at the conference and intended to talk to him about the city.
City Council President Michael Passero, who is also a firefighter, said Schaitberger encouraged the group to stand strong. "There are a lot of scared members in there,'' he said. "But he told them the whole firefighting community in the United States is behind them. I think it meant a lot to them.''
Twenty-five of the department's 66 active firefighters received pink slips last Friday informing them their last day on the job would be June 30. There are also six vacancies in the department.
Those who would lose their jobs include veteran firefighters who have been with the department for more than 12 years and the city's latest hire, Al Mayo, who has had a tumultuous hiring process during the past six months but is now the first black firefighter hired by the city in more than 30 years.
Mayo was sworn in Friday at City Hall.
Despite last-minute budget deliberations by the City Council Tuesday to move money around in next year's proposed $83 million budget to save the public-safety jobs, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has not rescinded the layoffs.
Ten police officers also received layoff notices. Police Chief Margaret Ackley said Tuesday she had money in her overtime account to save the positions, but those pink slips have not been rescinded, either.
Finizio, who has 10 days from last Tuesday to review the proposed budget before certifying it or vetoing it, said Thursday the city will continue to negotiate with the unions in an effort to gain concessions and avoid layoffs.
Dale Cunningham, treasurer of the Lawrence and Memorial Hospital registered nurses' union and a member of the Southeastern Connecticut Central Labor Council, showed up outside the fire department Friday on her way home from work to show support for the firefighters. Axel Westberg, who is also on the council, also attended.
"This isn't a labor issue,'' said Westberg, who lives in New London. "This is a public safety issue.''
State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, also stopped by the firehouse as he was riding his bicycle through town. "I believe in what they do,'' he said of the firefighters. "And I don't believe for one second that this council would have passed a budget that had 35 layoffs."
There has never been a layoff in the history of the fire department, according to Basilica.
After holding a public hearing, the City Council approved the first of three readings on the proposed 2012-13 budget. Finizio then announced the layoffs, saying he needed $1.2 million to avert the layoffs.
The proposed $83 million budget is about a 1.1 percent increase over the current budget and will require an 8 percent increase in the tax rate.
Also, 68 teachers have received notification of potential layoffs, and three members of the public works department have been notified that their jobs are being terminated June 30, which is the end of the current fiscal year.
As a result of the City Council's actions on Tuesday, five other City Hall workers may be losing their jobs, including Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard, who began work May 21. The others are Assistant City Clerk Dawn Currier, Director of Planning and Development Kristin Havrilla Clarke, the mayor's office administrator, Tammy Daugherty, and the city risk manager, Lauren Cragg.