Hartford firefighters protest mayor’s plan to change union contracts

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HARTFORD--Hartford firefighters flooded the State Capitol complex on Monday to encourage state lawmakers to extinguish Senate Bill 464.

The bill would allow the mayor of Hartford to form a nine-member commission, which he would co-chair, to reopen and renegotiate city union contracts. The Hartford Financial Sustainability Commission would also give Mayor Luke Bronin more power to dictate the outcome of union negotiations.

Mayor Bronin testified to legislators that Hartford's deficit will be $48.5 million in 2017, and that union-negotiated pensions, as well as health and welfare benefits, are unsustainable.

"I understand and respect the opposition of those in labor who oppose this bill," Bronin said during his testimony. "I have long supported organized labor and respect all public employees, and it is not easy to propose a bill opposed by many friends and allies. But my highest obligation is to the city I was elected to serve, and to the taxpayers of Hartford."

While the mayor said deep cuts will also come from elsewhere, the firefighters union complained the proposed commission will essentially cut it out of negotiations.

"There's not a lot of fat to cut, we will be cutting muscle, we will be cutting bone because we have no option," Mayor Bronin said. He also said during testimony that, "What has been proposed in SB 464 would not eliminate collective bargaining, would not affect any existing contracts, would not provide any legal authority to diminish pensions already earned and vested, and would not take away the authority of the Hartford City Council. Rather, it would give the City Council and the Mayor additional tools to determine the size and cost of Hartford’s government, at a time when our city is in crisis."

"The Hartford firefighters have a long record of going in and helping out the city when they are asked and when they are treated with respect," firefighter Peter Towey, who is also the union treasurer, said.

Mayor Bronin said the proposed legislation would make the commission temporary. It would dissolve when Hartford's financial situation stabilizes.

Hundreds of firefighters from across the state came out to support the Hartford men and women in uniform.

Many union members are not happy, and some turned out Monday night in response to Bronin's testimony.

"We make the city run. Without police, fire and DPW, there would be no city," said Kenneth Blue, president of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest trade union of public employees in the country. "Eight-five percent of our employees are residents of the city of Hartford, and if you layoff, who is going to do the work?"

The city's Common Council voted to explore Bronin's proposal at a meeting next Monday and encouraged union members and residents to attend.