The Thorny Union Concession Process

Nearly halfway through the budget year and the city is still trying to achieve the $2 million in employee concessions the City Council plugged into the budget in an effort to reduce Mayor Bill Finch’s proposed tax increase. Reluctant unionized employees say they’ve already given back plenty for previous budgets. Mayoral staffers say they’ve taken 6.5 unpaid furlough days to help cut into the number. What if the unions don’t step up again?

Finch has not been afraid to poise the layoff hammer in the past, or at least the threat of it. On Several occasions the city has issued layoff notices, even during the holidays, to send a message to achieve the concession savings.

While the city’s Labor Relations Department tries to close the gap with unions, bean counters are already working on the spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1, 2014. After the new year, department heads will submit their respective budgets to the Office of Policy and Management led by Tom Sherwood. And soon after the new year the finance department led by Anne Kelly-Lenz will begin to review information on real-estate holdings for the city’s ongoing state-mandated revaluation process that will be factored into the spending plan and eventual setting of the mil rate. This could be a dicey process for the mayor, bean counters and taxpayers. After two straight tax increases Finch wants as much financial peace as possible with his reelection on the horizon in 2015.

Sherwood’s office handles the spending side of the budget while Kelly-Lenz manages the revenue side and financial reporting. Finch will submit his budget proposal to the City Council the first week of April.



  1. It’s all about timing and keeping the taxpayer uninformed. Sherwood is the maestro.

    I have wondered in the past year why the info that flows to the School Building Committee on each project at each meeting seems so comprehensive and accurate, relative to what members of the City Council ordinarily review. I looked at the several Council persons who participate in those meetings and sensed it was not because of their “personally high standards” for fiscal reporting, so there must be another reason. Sure enough, the State of CT provides most of the Capital funds and stands ready to monitor and audit. Were the same formats coming to the City Council each month and regular capital reporting also, our fiscal affairs might be in better order and stronger. But the longer the taxpayer pays no attention to the budgets, to the actual appropriations (think about the DRAFT ANNUAL June report), and gets little or no time to discuss with those in the know, the City beat goes on.

    And who can argue with unions unwilling to provide concessions when salaries expand among the powerful and money is found for “projects” unsung in the budget address. And the October 1, 2013 revaluation numbers are likely available today, but the Mayor will wait for their mailing for a more auspicious date. What magician will pull the “educational rabbit” out of the hat at $3.2 Million this year?

    Time will tell.

  2. Not to worry. Tommy Mac is on the scene.
    Oh, that’s right. Finch doesn’t trust Tommy Mac with important stuff like this. He brings in outside counsel for concession discussions.

  3. *** Even the revenue side of the budget is somewhat tinkered with by Mr. Sherwood who is the Grand Poobah of the city’s budget with everyone else on the outside looking in! *** The city unions and non-union workers at one time or another have all stepped up to the budget concessions plate with little or no help from the Mayor’s administration on curbing excess spending and finding other outside incoming revenue sources! So city layoff slips should not be a big surprise after the holidays, no? ***

  4. JML and I have been saying for the past three years the mayor has been hiding millions in his budget and no one listens.
    In 2011 and 2012 the budget committee passed a budget with ghost positions that cost $5 million per year. For those who don’t know what a ghost position is: It’s a position you fund but never intend to fill. This gave the mayor a large slush fund to play with and monies he never had to answer for.
    This year the money was hidden in the mayor’s office budget and in police overtime. This is one of the few times in memory the budget committee was not allowed to discuss or bring the mayor’s office budget up.
    They continue to give themselves raises and they continue to hire friends and relatives, example Sue Brannelly’s relative was hired to a new position in labor relations.
    I can’t say what the unions should do but I can say you have been getting screwed for years.

  5. Another case for unions never to be in the public sector. When one went to work for the government it wasn’t meant to be a high falutin’ type job. It was meant for those who did their job for 25-30 years, retired on a guaranteed liveable pension and that was that. Today public unions are a “Frankenstein.” They control governments, cost the taxpayers more than their share or worth in productivity, and deliver little in the way of benefit to the municipality in which they work.

      1. Bob’s assessment is rather harsh, but accurate. Government employee unions have gained power from the failure of civil service systems and a cozy relationship with the Democratic party.
        Including something in a budget that does not exist, lower personnel cost due to concessions by unionized employees, was irresponsible. It was not allowed when Bridgeport was under State oversight and was required to comply with generally accepted accounting practices.
        I believe Sue Brannelly took credit for reducing the tax increase required in the Mayor’s proposed budget. That is like saying you reduced your cost of groceries by using a credit card rather than paying cash.
        It will be interesting to see if this council will actually try to address the root cause of this immediate dilemma, spending more than revenue allows.
        Bridgeport has the same systemic issues as Detroit regarding unfunded obligations. At this level, it will be interesting to see how Detroit’s problems are addressed in Federal court and the template for other municipalities to use is developed.
        In the meantime, is this city council up to the task? Are they ready to take actions such as reducing their stipends to a responsible amount and unfunding unnecessary positions or even entire departments?
        As JML says, time will tell.

  6. Do teachers belong to a ‘union’ or a ‘professional association,’ Bob?
    Perhaps others might want to weigh in on this question. Perhaps Gary Peluchette or Rob Traber might like to comment on this subject? Maybe they would not, though they are the leaders of the Bridgeport Education Association.
    When is the BEA whose members contribute dues to their association annually close to $1,000 going to comment, as a group, with a vote from all of their members behind their statement on what ails the school system? Some of the dues probably go to State and National Association levels, but when over $100,000 of local and state association funds are spent on a political action where the majority of the teachers do not vote, it is interesting.
    No words of wisdom about priorities to improve quality instructional time in the classroom by spending some ‘professional dues’ for representation and a White Paper to the community? But ‘political feet’ on the ground with educational plan espoused by those supported? Curious efforts? Time will tell.

    1. JML,
      I believe if you PAY the $1,000 dues (or whatever the number is) to the BEA then you too will have a voice as to how the dues money should be spent.
      But if you do not pay anything you are out of luck.

  7. Didn’t the mayor’s cabinet get 5% raises and half of them are working second jobs for Malloy or Himes?

    My union better stand strong again, we didn’t give then and we aren’t giving now!!!

    1. Golly gee, Walsh, I thought you were regaining a “public” consciousness but apparently it is more fun to be a “troll” or curmudgeon, after all.
      Since you have decided to respond to the question at hand, thanks for indicating the BEA is a “union” in talking to Chosen 1. As such we probably should not expect any communication from those on the front line, classroom teachers all, about system priorities here in Bridgeport. That is a shame, a real loss to public discussion.

      Perhaps what they can expect is their “union governance” (a genuine oxymoron?) will grind on, making decisions about plans and programs that use their dues money without asking their professional opinion or dues-paying authorization. And Bob, since you raised the issue, when you were a City Council person did you ever provide a comment about one or more unions of which you were not a dues-paying member? And if you did not raise a question or two, why not?
      In each of your responses above, you initiated them with “I believe …”. What do you really believe these days, Bob? Time will tell.

  8. Finch and Sherwood and his department are at the same bullshit again. This threat of layoffs and pay reductions are not just yearly, but an a everyday occurrence. The unions are getting screwed every year. This rotten piece of garbage they call a Mayor must go ASAP!!! As for Sherwood, he’s the brains behind the whole process, and only a few people have the brains to understand what he is doing, and they get pay raises to keep quite. P.S. strong letter to follow.

  9. *** When you’re constantly lying down and sleeping with dogs, it’s just a matter of time before you wake up with fleas! If the Unions have any political power left and are really in it for the workers’ sakes, they will make a final stand on the city’s bluff and hold their position. If they’ve got no power left along with self-serving weak leaders and a weak membership, then they will fold to the 6.5 unpaid furlough days as they have in the past! *** WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLETS? ***


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