Town, police union seem headed to arbitration regarding pension plan
WESTPORT — With the old police pension plan up for alteration, the town says it will take the police union to arbitration while the union hopes to negotiate the new plan with the town independent of a third-party arbitration panel.
“Our position is that we’re not going to go back and negotiate because it’s the same pension plan we offered the fire department and they accepted it,” town Personnel and Human Resources Director Ralph Chetcuti said, referring to the new fire union pension fund, which is expected to save the town $40 million over the next 20 years and was approved by the town’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in March.
This fall, the police union twice voted down proposed pension agreements identical to the plan approved by the fire union saying the plan asked for too many concessions from union members, especially from new officers.
“We’re asking the town to step back for a minute and see if there’s something that can be done so we can avoid arbitration,” said Larry Dorman, communications coordinator for Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the parent union of the Westport fire union, Local 2080.
The town and police union have set an arbitration date for June 13, during which a panel of three arbitrators, one chosen by the union, one chosen by the town, and a neutral arbitrator agree on by both parties, will choose either the town’s proposed pension plan or the union’s. Arbitration is binding, and leaves no room for a compromise between the town’s asks and the union’s, which is why Dorman said he hopes the town and union will return to the negotiating table to find a “middle road” that works for both the town and its officers.
Nonetheless, the police union has shown through its rejection of both previous pension plans that it’s not willing to make many concessions.
“The town is in great financial shape and is renowned for the quality of its services, including public safety,” union Vice President Cpl. Scott Morrison said in a statement. Westport officers don’t receive Social Security, so they rely on the pensions for retirement union President, Cpl. Howard Simpson, said, adding officers pensions are based on salary and not overtime.
Officers are also frustrated with the reduction in the cost of living adjustment for retired officers and spousal annuity benefits for the partner of a deceased officer, Dorman said, adding it may be harder to retain officers in town if pension benefits are reduced for new officers. So far, the town has agreed to grandfather in the pension plans for any officers with more than 20 years in Westport, but no so for officers with 19 or fewer years in the force, Chetcuti said.
“The town’s annual cost for pension and retiree healthcare skyrocketed from under a million (dollars) to nearly 20 million (dollars) a year between 2010 and 2018,” Floyd Dugas, a Senior Partner with Berchem Moses who represents the town on employment matters, said, adding virtually all the other town employee unions have been awarded pension benefits equal to or less than the plan the town has proposed to the police union.
With no agreement in site, it will be up to the arbitrators to decide the future of Westport police officer pensions.
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