West Haven reaches deal with union representing WPCA employees

Cash-strapped West Haven has reached a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with the union that represents 24 employees of the Water Pollution Control Authority. The contract with Local 1303 of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, which the City Council, pictured, approved Monday night, will provide no raises in the current year and 2 percent raises for the following two years.

Mark Zaretsky / Hearst Connecticut Media

The cash-strapped city has reached a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with the union that represents 24 employees of the Water Pollution Control Authority.

The contract with Local 1303 of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees will provide no raises in the current year and 2 percent raises the following two years.

Aside from not costing anything extra for the current contract year, which began July 1, 2017, the new contract, which the union ratified late last year and the City Council unanimously approved Monday night, will save the city money through several changes in insurance — including adoption of a new high-deductible health care plan, city officials and the city’s outside labor attorney told the council.

Several council members, including Chairman Ron Quagliani, D-At Large, criticized the short notice the council had. Members were delivered details just prior to the meeting.

But in the end, they all supported it — although Quagliani said that in the future, the council needs considerably more lead time.

Not providing any wage increase this year will save West Haven $33,135 compared to the raises workers likely would get if the contract went to arbitration, said Director of Finance Kevin McNabola.

In addition, the new high-deductible health care plan is estimated to save the city $13,113 a year, McNabola said.

Both city Commissioner of Human Resources Beth Sabo, who was a member of the city’s negotiating team, and union President Paul Butler said they were happy with the agreement.

“We think it’s good for both the city and the union,” said Sabo.

“I think it’s great for the taxpayers and for the WPCA employees,” said Butler.

Mayor Nancy Rossi said she supports the agreement because of the zero percent increase for the current year. The city had no contingency set aside for raises this year and providing them “would plunge us into a deficit,” she said.

According to labor attorney William Ryan of Ryan & Ryan of New Haven, West Haven went into negotiations seeking a number of goals, and achieved all of them.

The goals included negotiating a wage freeze for the first year of the contract, negotiating a high-deductible health care plan, eliminating retiree medical benefits and life insurance benefits for new hires, changing the way overtime is calculated so sick time doesn’t count toward the 40 hours per week worked for overtime purposes, and adding language to protect the city from potential lawsuits.

“I think we achieved many concessions from the union that will save the city money,” Ryan said.

The primary thing the union got was two personal days per year, with new hirees getting one day for their first year. Local 1303 employees previously didn’t get personal days.

The change in sick leave being used in the calculation of overtime carries and estimated savings of $66,250 annually, said McNabola.

According to Connecticut Conference of Municipalities data, the current average annual salary increase in negotiated municipal labor agreements is 2.41 percent per year, Ryan said.

Binding arbitration awards for the 2017-18 fiscal year have been averaging 2.33 percent, he said.

West Haven’s average over the three years of the contract will be 1.33 percent, Ryan said.

The HDHP will have deductibles of $2,000 for single people and $4,000 for families. The city will contribute 50 percent of the applicable deductible. At the union’s insistence, the city will continue to offer its Blue Cross Century Preferred Point of Service Plan, or PPO, with employees who want it able to “buy-up” by paying the difference between what the city contributes toward the HDHP and the cost of the PPO.

Employees will pay 12 percent of the cost of health insurance premiums for the HDHP, and more toward the cost of the PPO, Ryan said.

Current retirees and employees hired before July 1, 2017, will continue to have health insurance when they retire, but employees hired on or after July 1 will not. The same holds true for city-paid life insurance, he said.

No longer providing retiree medical benefits for new hirees will save the city $153,598 per employee, said McNabola.

The new agreement also changes the rules on accrued sick leave payouts so employees hired on or after July 1, 2017, will not be eligible for payouts of accumulated sick leave time. It also tightens the definition of sick leave and adds language that states that an employee “shall forfeit his sick pay and will be disciplined up to and included termination” if the city “can prove that an employee out on sick leave does not have a bona fide illness.”

No longer paying accumulated sick leave for retirees carries total estimated savings of $183,216, said McNabola.