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Both sides got some of what they wanted, while accepting provisions they would have rather left on the table. That is how successful negotiations usually work. And for all the drama that surrounded the concession deal with the New London firefighters union, that is essentially what happened.
At a special City Council meeting Thursday, the Finizio administration finally picked up the elusive fourth vote, breaking the 3-3 stalemate that had blocked approval of the deal. Adam Sprecace, the lone Republican on the seven-member council, swallowed hard and provided that vote after receiving assurances of at least more protection for taxpayers, if not as much as he would have liked.
This is a victory for Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and his administration. The mayor took the position that the city could not sustain the current cost of the fire service and, without a concession deal approved by council, would turn to large-scale layoffs. The concessions, with short-term savings of about $1 million, are substantial and will mean lower labor costs going forward.
Minimum staffing levels per shift will drop from 18 to 16. Eliminated will be nine positions, obtainable by leaving vacancies open and through anticipated retirements. Firefighters also forego pay raises due over the next few months.
In return the firefighters will move from their 401 plans into the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System, the union's top priority. Needed is $14 million to fund the union's entry into the fixed pension plan. Between $10 million to $11 million will come from money in the firefighters' 401 plans, the difference provided by the city through long-term borrowing.
The union contract is extended through June 30, 2016 with the promise of no layoffs, and will include 2 percent pay raises in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The greatest concern is the long-term cost to the city of moving to the fixed pension plan. Councilor Sprecace wanted assurances the city's contribution, set by state accountants, will not spiral out of control. The rate is now 15.3 percent of salaries. The renegotiated deal caps the contribution at 18.5 percent, at which point the union must negotiate a means of sharing the additional cost. Failure to reach a deal would move the process to binding arbitration.
We suspect Mr. Sprecace would have preferred a solid and perhaps lower cap. But recognizing he got some of what he wanted, he did the right thing, avoiding layoffs, a legal fight and more controversy.
It will be good to move beyond this issue.