The Westport Police are always there for us.
But now, many officers fear, the town may not be there for them.
A member of the police union board tells “06880” that the department is in the midst of pension negotiations. He says they’re not going well.
The union member explains that when current officers joined the force, their contract called for them to pay 10% of their base salary into a pension fund. That’s among the highest in Connecticut.
In return, they were guaranteed retirement at half of their final salary with 20 years’ service — while being responsible for their own medical costs.
Pension benefits are calculated using only base salaries — no overtime.
Half of the base salary works out to roughly $42,000. But after paying 40% of medical benefits and taxes, he says, that’s hardly enough to live on here.
The current pension contract expired July 1, 2016. (A separate work contract has already been ratified.)
A number of the 64 officers on the force chafe at the town’s offer. “We work midnight shifts, weekends and holidays,” the officer says.
“We give up a lot of family time. Any traffic stop or emergency call could be our last. We can be sued civilly. Our life expectancy is less than people who are not police officers.”
They’ve made some concessions in negotiations — including raising the retirement age from 49 to 52.
But talks stalled. The union’s final offer was rejected by the town.
Now they’re in arbitration. Three people — one selected by the town, one by the police union, the third neutral — will rule on one offer or the other.
The union board member says that if citizens contact their RTM members and first selectman, the town has the option to pull out of arbitration.
He notes that Westport is in “great shape” financially. The grand list has increased 15.4% since 2010.
“The great school system, parks, beaches and attractions make Westport a desirable place to live,” he says. “But they come at a price. That price is your employees. Without dedicated and hard-working employees, none of the things that make Westport unique would hold true.
“People think there’s a golden parachute. The reality is very different. We just want what we were promised.”
The union board member believes that “the fair and most logical thing the town should do is leave the current employees’ benefit alone.”
The town will change new hires’ pensions. The half-pension, half-401k hybrid “will be in Westport’s pocket going forward,” he notes.
“We took this job with the expectation we’d have certain pension benefits at retirement,” he adds. “We see this as a slap in the face to people who provide tremendous service to the town.”
He concludes, “Whenever someone in Westport needs help, they call the police. Now the Westport police need your help. Contact your RTM member, or speak directly to the first selectmen. Let them know you care.”