As police pact OK’d, firefighter union rallies
Richard Weizel , Register Correspondent 10/16/2003
STRATFORD — On the same night the Town Council approved a new three-year contract with the police union, more than 100 local firefighters and their supporters staged a rally outside Town Hall that spilled into a council meeting on Tuesday.

The police union pact approved by the council — which gives its 100 members just under a 3-percent raise in each of the three years — came after a similar rally was staged by police in July after a year of acrimonious negotiations.

The police union contract gives officers a 2.7 percent raise retroactively for 2002; a 2.8 percent hike in 2003, and a 3 percent increase in 2004, according to Town Manager Mike Feeney. Feeney, however, said the police union made concessions regarding its insurance coverage.

Feeney said the firefighters union "should be looking at the police union pact instead of the kinds of numbers they are now seeking — which are increases of five percent and totally unacceptable."

But firefighters union President Lt. John Conway, representing Local 998 of the International Association of Firefighters, told the Town Council Tuesday that the union was just seeking a fair and equitable contract and accused the town of "walking away from the bargaining table."

Carrying placards such as, "Support Stratford’s Bravest," and, "Support Our Firefighters," more than 100 supporters rallied outside Town Hall before the meeting and cheered loudly when Conway spoke to the council.

"We’re just seeking what is fair, and the town stopped talking to us in January," said Conway. "It’s unfortunate that we are now in arbitration, but there appears to be no other way at the present time." Conway said his union has also filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the state Labor Board.

Conway also said there are "serious differences" on issues such as benefits and other non-economic issues he declined to disclose. He said the 91-member union’s former six-year contract expired in June 2000.

But Feeney and Council Chairman Robert Calzone, D-At-large, said the negotiations stopped because of the union’s "unreasonable demands."

"You just can’t be asking for the kind of increases they are in this economy; they are already making more than the police, and we have committed a great deal of funding this year for the Fire Department, such as the $5.8 million in a new firehouse," said Feeney.

Town and union officials reached a tentative agreement on the police union contract in August after nearly 18 months of highly acrimonious negotiations, but both sides said it took several weeks to work out the final details. The union ratified the contract recently by a 70-12 margin.

"All we have wanted all along was a cost-of-living increase that everybody else is getting around the state," police union President Lt. Joseph McNeil said recently.

Feeney said be believes the police contract is a fair one for both sides.

©New Haven Register 2003

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