Groton Town Council looks at non-union employees' pay, benefits

Groton - A Groton town councilor is questioning whether the town should give 2 percent raises to non-union employees, considering the benefits they receive.

"In the government world, the benefits are, in my opinion, crazy," Councilor Bruce Flax, who works in management at Foxwoods Resort Casino, told the council earlier this week. "In sick time, on my paycheck, I get hours. In their paychecks, they get paid in days."

The discussion came up as the council began deliberating a proposed $122.84 million budget for the coming fiscal year. Councilors decided to put the conversation on hold but take it up later before sending a final number to the Representative Town Meeting.

Groton has 43 non-union employees, mostly highly paid staff such as department heads, supervisors and some police. Three non-union jobs are vacant.

The workers are covered by an agreement rather than a contract, the most recent of which the council approved in March 2007.

The agreement provides annual raises of up to 4 percent, based on performance, but in recent years has been capped at a lower amount. Non-union employees received annual raises of zero in 2010 and 2011, a 3 percent maximum raise in 2012 and a 2.5 percent maximum last year, Town Manager Mark Oefinger told the council.

By comparison, workers in the Groton Municipal Employees Association, which covers 86 jobs and is the largest of the five town employee unions, received no raises in 2011 and 2012, and 2 percent raises starting July 1, 2013. The contract calls for a 2 percent raise in the coming fiscal year. But union workers may also be eligible for "step" increases based on years of service that non-union employees do not receive, Oefinger said.

Heather Bond Somers told her colleagues they should be sensitive to the issue of equity between union and non-union employees.

"On the other hand, I think that we also need to keep in perspective that this is not our money that we're giving away," she said. "This is tax dollar money coming from our citizens, and they have rights, too."

Flax said raises should be considered in the context of benefits.

In addition to annual salary increases, non-union employees may receive "performance incentive awards" in the form of additional leave or a cash payment equal to up to five days' salary under the current agreement.

The town manager may also approve a temporary boost in pay if employees are asked to take on additional duties, even if those tasks don't temporarily move them into a job classified at a higher rate.

The contract allows employees to build up annual paid leave of 17 days for those with less than nine years of service; 20 days for those with 10 to 15 years of service; and 26 days for those with 15 years or more.

Employees also accrue a total of 15 sick leave days per year. The agreement allows them to accumulate as many as 250 sick days, then provides a cash payment for unused sick time beyond that, at a ratio of one day's pay for three sick days.

"I have like 200 hours" of sick time, Flax said. "These guys are talking about 200 days."

Councilor Bob Frink said during the discussion that the council should decide what each job is worth, and go from there.

Somers said she'd decide what taxpayers can afford to pay for raises, give that amount to Oefinger and let him divvy it up.

"If you talk to people in the corporate world, people are still losing their jobs in Connecticut, they're taking salary decreases, and they feel lucky that they have a job," she said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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