Police Union Rejects Pension Contract

A controversial pension agreement — agreed to by the union executive board, and approved after hours of debate by the RTM — has been rejected by Westport police officers.

Under the agreement, current employees would pay 40% of the cost of their health insurance at the time of retirement. That amount would be frozen.

New hires (as of July 1, 2017) would be required to pay 40% of the cost of health insurance, and would not be frozen.

The retirement age would rise to 52, from 49.

A union representative called the margin of defeat “overwhelming.”

First selectman Jim Marpe said the town will meet with union leadership soon, to resume contract talks.

“I remain confident that we can reach an agreement which continues to provide excellent retirement benefits consistent with the fiscal challenges the Town faces today and in the future,” Marpe added.

“I know I reflect the opinion of all Westport residents when I express my appreciation for the dedication, bravery and professionalism that our police officers exhibit every day in protecting and serving our community.”

7 responses to “Police Union Rejects Pension Contract

  1. Dan:

    Where can I get a look at the proposed agreement? A web site?

    Karl Taylor

    Southport, NC

  2. Melissa Kane has potentially hurt Westport financially and I hope every Westport resident understands this may be a real sign of the policies she would bring to our town.

    Driven by her apparent involvement with under-investigation and like-minded Dan Drew, Melissa Kane may now have cost the town real money. Melissa Kane’s recent grandstanding about her disapproval of the new police pension plan at the RTM meeting, undercut Westport’s negotiators, and now the police union rejected the new pension plan previously approved by their executive board.

    Leaked texts implicate Melissa Kane in a fundraising and outside influence scandal involving ultra-left gubernatorial candidate Dan Drew, who openly supports retaining the crippling state pension plans. In addition, Dan Drew supports taxing Fairfield County residents more.

    Westporters need to know that Melissa Kane knowingly accepted Dan Drew’s donation designed to exert outside influence on Westport, which is evidenced by leaked text messages.

    On Friday, October 27th, CT’s largest paper, the Hartford Courant, published a report on leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Mayor of Middletown Dan Drew, who is currently under investigation by state election officials for fundraising violations in the Governor’s race. The report focuses on illegally funneling money to Democratic candidates around the state in an effort to seek their support in the Governor’s race. Leaked texts give new credibility to these charges and involve Westport First Selectman candidate Melissa Kane. According to the Courant, in a July 27 text conversation with an unidentified aide from the Kane campaign, a Dan Drew representative requests a face to face meeting with Melissa Kane to give her a maximum $1,000 campaign contribution, and says “Mayor Dan Drew asked me to hand deliver it.”

    On August 19, Melissa Kane and a campaign aide met with Dan Drew’s operative and her campaign lists the check in her campaign filing for that day.

    Only after the story broke on October 27, did Melissa returned the donation. Prior to that, Melissa Kane made her speech at the RTM meeting opposing the new police pension plan; despite wide bipartisan RTM support, and the savings to our town. All very interesting.

    http://www.courant.com/politics/government-watch/hc-pol-leaked-texts-luxenberg-20171026-story.html

  3. There is a full explanation of the vote by Democratic First Selectman Candidate Melissa Kane on her website:

    “I have a long record of supporting pension reform as a member of the RTM.

    I also believe when the town makes an agreement with someone, particularly an individual who puts his/her life on the line to protect ours, we should do everything in our power to keep our word.

    I fully support complete pension reform (moving to a defined contribution system) for all new hires – including police officers. However, when someone has spent up to 19 years of his/her life working to protect us based on a contract signed when starting the job, I don’t think we should change it drastically mid-stream.

    On October 3, I voted to turn down a deal that was NOT fully negotiated. It was not ratified by the police union. As I mentioned in my remarks, I thought the vote was way too premature.

    Our police chief publicly stated that the deal on the table was not a fair deal. He expressed concern about the flight of police officers that would result from it, and an inability to adequately replace them in a timely manner.”

    The full version is here: https://melissaforwestport.org/issues-it-is-time-for-change/my-thoughts-on-police-pension-reform/

  4. Two points about pension negotiations.

    First, in every one of our negotiations and arbitration proceedings, our employees had their union leadership to represent them. Our taxpayers have no one but us–Westport’s elected officials–to represent them.

    Second, neither our taxpayers nor our employees win when unsustainable pension costs crowd out spending on pressing municipal needs. We’ve seen that scenario play out in Hartford and elsewhere. Although Westport is wealthier than many towns, our pension and OPEB costs are also far higher, as a look at our annual town budget reveals.

    That’s why two administrations, three Boards of Finance and countless RTM members committed to negotiate a more sustainable deal for Westport taxpayers. This has been a bipartisan issue. In fact, the first female Democratic governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, made pension reform the centerpiece of her campaign and first term.

    As I leave public office, I hope that commitment continues.

    Helen Garten
    Third Selectman

  5. Helen:
    Thank you for your years of service to our town as a member of the RTM, as chairwoman of the Board of Finance and your four years as our Third Selectwoman. Your business acumen has been invaluable on so many levels. My concern is that the town continues its efforts towards real pension reform and that we elect those people with proven results and the management and business experience that is essential to our town government.
    Jim Ezzes

  6. Not to parse words, but I wouldn’t refer to the pension agreements as “controversial”. They were supported across party lines at the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance (at least among those on the BOF who were close to the negotiations). Moreover, only six RTM reps voted against the police agreement and only 4 voted against the firefighters agreement (with total RTM membership of 36). Given that the firefighters vote followed the police vote and that there was no logical reason to vote against one and for the other (as the terms were the same), it would seem that the (more) overwhelming firefighters vote (with 4 against) is more indicative of the RTM mood.

    Retirement benefit agreements at both the state and municipal level are for fixed time periods. In the extremely unlikely case that a new employee is under the false impression that an agreement with a predetermined term will be in force in perpetuity, the union leadership is quite capable of correcting this mindset. The union leadership is intelligent and well represented by counsel. On the flip side, wage agreements — which are negotiated separately from retirement benefit agreements — also have a fixed term. Employees, rightfully, expect to have new conditions put in place when an agreement expires. In fact, these agreements have typically incorporated wage increases well in excess of inflation, local economic growth, and general wage growth.

    Even the haplessly managed state of Connecticut has changed retirement benefit formulas to address some (but not enough) of their out of market features. And, as Helen Garten points out, Rhode Island (a state hardly unfriendly to its public sector employees) has gone much further on pension reform. I am not aware of a police or firefighters union in the state that has more generous retirement benefits than Westport’s. (Based on the latest state OPM data, there is also not another municipality in the state with a higher tax burden per capita than Westport — despite recent successful efforts to keep mill rates flat.) While the notion that we’re stuck with agreements that are well out of market norms for decades is naive and fiscally irresponsible, it would also be unfair to drastically alter benefits for tho who have served the longest. Thus, under the agreements, changes were phased in slowly, with no changes for employees with 20+ years of experience and the biggest changes for employees yet to be hired.

    Jim Westphal

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