A ruling by a three-person arbitration panel issued last week in a dispute over police pensions has stirred tensions between local patrolman’s union and the Town Council.
Vice Chairman David Schrumm on Thursday called the arbitration panel’s ruling on May 20 in favor of the union in a dispute over defined pension benefits “a travesty, a real shame that will cost Cheshire taxpayers for years to come.”
The 22-page ruling delayed the town’s ability to end enrollment of new officers hired and covered under the department’s defined benefit pension plan by six months. It also increased members’ maximum pension benefit as a percentage of final average compensation from 68 percent to 72 percent, according to the panel’s ruling.
“I don’t begrudge us going to arbitration because there are times when you have to stand up for something, not just lay down and take it,” Schrumm said. “This is another example of public employees and our state’s political system being joined at the hip.”
Under the arbitrators ruling, any police officer hired after January 1 of this year will not be eligible for the defined benefits pension plan. The town had sought to end further enrolment in the union’s defined benefits pension plans on July 1, 2013.
Between last July and Jan. 1 of this year, Schrumm said the department added eight new officers as result of turnover within the department. Four of those new hires will be covered under the old defined benefit pension plan while the other four will be covered by the new plan, a municipal employees version of a 401-K
Brian Pichnarcik, who is vice president of AFSCME Local 1720, said any future costs that the town’s taxpayers have to pay for in the future is the result of a “poor decision” by the council’s majority, blaming Schrumm specifically.
“We offered to give up the pension at the very first (negotiation) meeting,” Pichnarcik said, referencing the start of contract talks between the union and town officials that began in February 2012.
The talks began against the backdrop of the council looking to complete an effort it had started a number of years earlier: Moving all of its public employee unions from a defined benefits pension plan to the municipal employees’ version of a 401(k) investment account. The police union was last union left in town with the old plan.
The town’s negotiators and the union’s bargaining team reached tentative agreements twice, both of which were rejected by the Republican controlled council. The two sides agreed in May 2013 to approve the rest of the terms of the new contract and send the disputed pension issues to arbitration.
Pichnarcik contends that the council gave its approval to one of the union’s offers in a closed door meeting, only to go back on its word later in public by rejecting one of the tentative contract agreements. Schrumm contends that the council never formally acted to approve one of the tentative contract agreements during any of its closed door meetings
“It is unfortunate that the Town Council decided to vote against a contract package that they themselves originally agreed to,” he said. “This poor decision has ultimately cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars in fees related to the arbitration process.”
Pichnarcik described the town’s negotiation team, led by Personnel Director Lou Zullo, saying that the talks were “productive and efficient.”
“We were very appreciative of their efforts,” he said.
In testimony given to the arbitration panel, Zullo described the talks between the two sides as calm compared to previous talks. Town Manager Michael Milone was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
Source: New Haven Register