How can nobody like a contract, but yet nearly everybody votes for it?
The Representative Town Meeting voted Monday night 11-5 to approve a four-year police contract, with raises of at least 2 ¼ percent every year.
“The sad fact is, as much as I don’t like this contract, I might have to swallow hard and accept this,” RTM member Paul Goldstein said, echoing many of his fellow members' sentiments.
If the contract was rejected, it would have to go back to negotiations, First Selectman Dan Steward said. That would likely cost at least $50,000 in legal fees, he said.
Then, if no agreement were to be reached, the town would have to go to either mediation or arbitration. In either case, the judge would look at Waterford’s ability to pay, which is strong, Steward said.
Waterford currently has more than $9 million in its general fund, around 13 percent compared to its annual budget, Steward said. That is much higher than most towns, whose general funds are about 5 percent to 8 percent of their annual budget, Steward said.
“That is good for bond ratings, but bad for arbitrators,” Steward said.
So, because there really was no other choice, approving this budget is the best option, Steward said. And many RTM members, despite being angry with the numbers, agreed.
“It is nothing I am happy with; it is not something I am comfortable with,” Steward said. “But it is the best we are going to get.”
The Debate Against
Despite the first selectman’s warnings, several RTM members rejected the contract. Some didn’t like the fact that there was not random drug testing, others complained about the amount of sick time, while still others said it set the wrong precedent.
“This sets precedents for all other unions negotiations in the future,” RTM member Theodore Olynciw said. “Every other union that comes before us is going to say, 'the police got a raise; where is ours?' ”
RTM member Michael Cannamela agreed, saying it sent the wrong message while the school district is asking the teachers union for a wage freeze.
“We are asking the teachers to freeze their salaries, while we talking about raising (the police union's),” he said. “I’ve got a real problem with that.”
A 15-year veteran on the force gets 20 vacation days a year, along with additional holiday days and personal days, Olynciw said. That is just too much, he said.
“Nobody in this room has that package,” Olynciw said. “I’d love to have that package.”
The Debate In Favor
Meanwhile, other RTM members applauded the contract, calling it fair in the economic times.
Gerard Gaynor, a former police officer, said the raises were deserved.
“We are talking about a job where you have to worry about getting shot every night,” he said. “I think a cost of living increase is fair.”
Sharon Palmer, the moderator of the RTM, also lauded the contract. Recently, Lawrence & Memorial Hospital employees, AT&T employees and Electric Boat employees all received 3 percent raises, she said.
“I respect the collective bargaining process -- always have, always will,” Palmer said. “And this is a fair contract in these times.”
John Bunce, head of the police union, agreed. The contract was much less than the last one the union signed, where raises were 3.5 percent annually. He emphasized that the job of police officer is a dangerous one.
“We put our lives on the line every day for this town,” he said. “When you push the button, when you call 9-1-1, we come, no matter what raise we get.”