In an attempt to please an increasingly fiscally-stringent Representative Town Meeting, First Selectman Dan Steward agreed to a four-year contract with the largest municipal union that limits raises to 2 percent or less and gains concessions on employees' health insurance plans.
The RTM, which still has to approve the contract, has demanded Steward and Superintendent Jerome Belair get tough on unions during contract negotiations. Belair brought in a contract with the teachers union in , and now it is Steward’s turn with his new agreement with the 1303 union.
“I think it is a good contract, it is a fair contract,” Steward said. “These people work hard, we’ve cut back on our staffing so they are doing more work with less people. The medical costs have to increase to a level that is more appropriate. We did what we could to settle a contract.”
The contract retroactively takes effect in 2011-12 and this year, 2012-13, and then will be in-place for 2013-14 and 2014-15. The 1303 union, the largest municipal union with more than 70 employees, is composed of members of the public works department, the recreation and parks department and the secretarial staff, among others.
The union has some of the lowest paid workers in the town, with an average salary of $52,561, Steward said. The contract gives out a 2 percent raise in 2011-12, a 0 percent raise in 2012-13, a 2 percent raise in 2013-14 and a 1.75 percent raise in 2014-15; increases employees' cost-sharing of their health insurance plans from 6.5 percent to 8 percent in 2014-15 and increases co-pays from $5 to $25 – and from $25 to $100 for emergency room visits.
“I have a zero, I increased the co-pays to a level that is appropriate and we did what was asked (),” Steward said.
The contract gives retroactive raises to employees for the last fiscal year, meaning the town will have to cut them one lump sum from the contingency fund, Steward said. The contract was not settled until a year and a month after it expired, meaning workers worked under their old contract while it was being negotiated, he said.
If adopted, in 2011-12 employees will retroactively get a 2 percent salary increase, which costs the town $95,073. In 2012-13, employees will get no salary increase but step increases, which costs the town $32,537. In 2013-14 employees get a 2 percent increase, which cost taxpayers an additional $100,761; and in 2014-15 employees get a 1.75 salary increase, costing the taxpayers an additional $105,402.
Over the course of the contract, the average salary of an employee in the union goes from $51,240 in 2011-12 to $54,412 in 2014-15. While the raises are held down, the other big key is healthcare, Steward said.
Cost-sharing for employees’ health insurance goes up from 6.5 percent to 8 percent over the course of the contract, meaning employees will have to pay 8 percent of the total cost of their health insurance in 2014-15. The teachers union will pay 19 percent of their health insurance costs in 2014-15, although Steward pointed out the median salary of a teacher is above $80,000 a year, compared to $54,412 a year for an employee in the 1303 union.
The other big change is the cost of co-pays. In the old contract, employees paid $5 co-pays for doctor visits and $25 co-pays for visits to the emergency room.
By the end of the contract, that will be bumped up to $25 for doctor visits and $100 for emergency room visits. The goal of the higher co-pays is to discourage people from going to the doctor frivolously, and if they do go, to go to a doctor’s office instead of an emergency room if it isn’t an emergency, Steward said.
“You are trying to get (employees) to use these intelligently so when you are doing this, you are going to use the right resource,” he said.
For example, emergency room visits are much more expensive than a visit to the doctor’s office, Steward said. Hopefully, by setting up the system like this, it will ensure people go to the doctor’s office for non-emergencies instead of the emergency room, he said.
The RTM will vote on the contract on August 6.