By Dave Moran
As published in the Record Journal Thursday February 11, 2010
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WALLINGFORD — It appears to be more of the same as the town attempts to negotiate labor contracts with three of its seven unions — the town contends there is “no money” to fund wage increases, while the unions continue to push for salary increases.
Two of those unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1183, which represents about 125 clerical, public works and sewer employees, and the International Association of Firefighters Local 1326, which represents about 60 firefighters, have entered into arbitration proceedings with the town. The third, the United Professional and Service Employees Union Local 424-17, is still negotiating with the town.
AFSCME has not had a contract since July 2008 and the firefighters union has not had a contract since July 2009. State labor laws prevent municipal employees from striking, and the unions have been working under the same salary and benefits packages since their contracts expired. Both unions have been in arbitration with the town for several months, and there is no time frame for when either might be resolved. Terence Sullivan, the town’s personnel director, said he could not comment on the status of negotiations, but he said the length that some of the town’s unions have been without contracts is not abnormal.
“There is no normalcy when it comes to collective bargaining,” Sullivan said. “It just depends on the issues. Once it hits arbitration it kind of stalls.”
Last year, before either went into arbitration, both AFSCME and the firefighters’ union presented the town with contract proposals that included several furlough days to pay for salary increases, but the town rejected the proposals.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s budget for 2009-10 did not include raises for any town employees and he said agreeing to the unions’ demands would set a bad precedent for future negotiations.
The four unions under contract with the town did receive their contracted wage increases last fiscal year, at a cost of $316,000, but the town paid for it by not filling vacancies in several departments and reducing the amount of work given to outside contractors.
“We’ve gone to arbitration before,” said James De Bridgita, president of the local firefighters union. “We’ve gone — probably the longest I can remember is two and a half years — without a contract. The guys would like to have a contract, would like to have a raise, but it seems to be part of the system in Wallingford.”
Larry Dorman, an AFSCME spokesman, echoed many of De Bridgita’s remarks, but said that what has been emerging during his union’s arbitration process with the town is that Wallingford, with its large surplus accounts, is in much better financial shape than many comparable municipalities in Connecticut.
“What distinguishes Wallingford from other negotiations is the fact that the town is in better shape than other cities,” Dorman said. “That’s something that’s become more apparent during the arbitration process.”
But Dickinson, a Republican who has held office since 1984, has been reluctant to dip into the town’s reserve fund in the past and seemed to reiterate that stance Wednesday.
“The issue we’re dealing with this current year is the same as last year,” he said. “We’re saying no wage increases and trying to cut back — there’s just no agreement.”