UPDATE: How they voted. Facing a mega budget deficit, at the urging of Mayor Joe Ganim, the Bridgeport City Council in a special meeting Wednesday night voted 12-3 to rescind controversial pay raises approved in a labor agreement covering about 150 city employees for a five-year period starting July 1, 2013. Those city employees have already received retroactive pay increases based on the agreement. Ganim and City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer have taken the legal position that a health-care amendment to the agreement required full council approval and invalidates implementation of the raises.
Ganim urged rejection of the contract due to the financial burden it has created for what Ganim says is a $20 million budget deficit he’s trying to close. Ganim pledged to reopen negotiations for a new contract. Ganim said the $2.5 million financial impact was not budgeted by the prior administration.
“This is a very wise decision by our city councilors to reject these appalling raises that Mayor Finch succeeded in sneaking through in the last days of his administration, without the proper scrutiny,” said Ganim in a statement. “These raises are costing taxpayers nearly $2.5 million dollars for the current fiscal year, an expenditure no one budgeted for and that is now adding to our already staggering budget deficit. Much of the money walked out the door along with Mayor Finch’s cronies on the last day of the previous administration because it was direct deposited into people’s bank accounts. But we will make every effort to get those funds back. I look forward to working with the supervisor’s union on hammering out a new contract that is more in line with the best interests of Bridgeport’s taxpayers.”
The council action raises several questions. How will the city recoup some of that money that left with departing Finch officials? What about the retroactive pay? Will the union file a lawsuit?
Some council members such as Michelle Lyons suggested the legislative body pass an ordinance that carves out the union members from the management level positions that have been grouped under the bargaining unit. Several council members asserted that union members with smaller pay scales than management positions are suffering as a result.
“I’m afraid to accept this contract because of some of the people who may lose their jobs,” said councilor Denese Taylor-Moye.
Councilor Eneida Martinez said she was upset that the information on the labor agreement was not forthcoming from the previous administration.
The labor pact became a controversial item as Bill Finch was going out the door as mayor.
In one of his final acts as mayor, Finch approved retroactive pay increases for dozens of discretionary appointees after the City Council failed to act on approving a collective bargaining agreement under the Bridgeport City Supervisor’s Association that also drives mayoral pay. On his final day as mayor Nov. 30th Finch’s bloated paycheck packed a direct deposited $17,079 based on his authorizing a retroactive pay raise going back to July 1, 2013.
On November 18, the attorney for the supervisor’s association Ed Gavin sent a letter to then Director of Labor Relations Larry Osborne, a Finch supporter who’s also a member of the Democratic Town Committee, citing Connecticut law regarding inaction by the legislative body to act on collective bargaining agreements.
“Such requests shall be considered approved if the legislative body fails to vote to approve or reject such requests within 30 days of the end of the 14 day period for submission to said body,” Gavin wrote.
One day later Osborne wrote a letter to Chief Administrative Officer Andy Nunn, a now-deposed Finch appointee, recommending that the “City move forward with putting the contract into effect, including any and all payroll adjustments as of November 27, 2015. If the City does not implement the contract, it will be subject to Municipal Prohibited Practices and other claims from the Union.”
Under the new agreement the mayor’s salary goes from $132,500 to roughly $144,000.
According to the communication from Ganim to the City Council “due to the significance of the matter and time being of the essence, the City Council has to accept or reject the Collective Bargaining Agreement prior to the expiration date that is due to expire on Sunday, January 3, 2016.”
Former City Council President Ernie Newton says this is another example why city employees should not serve on the City Council. “You can’t serve two masters.”
His reference was to City Council President Tom McCarthy, deputy director of Labor Relations whose office handled the labor negotiations under the Finch administration. McCarthy did not attend the council meeting.
Ganim has instructed city officials to meet with union representatives on Thursday to begin new negotiations.
Gavin has said he will march into court if need be.
Voting to reject contract: Katie Bukovsky, Denese Taylor-Moye, Jeanette Heron, Michelle Lyons, Richard Salters, Mary McBride-Lee, Jose Casco, Alfredo Castillo, Milta Feliciano, Nessah Smith, Anthony Paoletto, Eneida Martinez.
Voting to accept: John Olson, AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia, Aidee Nieves.
Abstaining: Evette Brantley, claiming dubiously since she was not a member of the council when the labor pact was presented to the council she should not vote.
Absent: Tom McCarthy, Jim Holloway, Jack Banta, Scott Burns.