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Hartford Asks Union To Agree To Wage, Benefit Concessions

By JENNA CARLESSO

May 21, 2010

HARTFORD óRay Cloutier says he hasn't had a pay raise in at least two years.

Facing inflation and the rising cost of health care, he's been wondering how much longer he'll have to get by without a salary increase.

So he was disheartened to learn Thursday that city officials hope to persuade union members like him to make $7.1 million in wage and benefit concessions to help the city cut its budget.

"We've been giving back to them. It's time to let them find someplace else to get the money from, besides us," said Cloutier, a city sanitation worker and member of Local 1716 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 4, which represents 520 city employees.

Mayor Eddie A. Perez and the city council reached an agreement Wednesday on a $544.4 million budget for 2010-11 that cuts spending by $9.8 million and requires no increase in the tax rate. Officials hope to offset the $7.1 million reduction in salaries and benefits with union concessions, salary adjustments for nonunion employees, a retirement incentive program and adjustments to the pension contribution.

Despite worker reservations, city officials hope employees will be open to steps that could avoid layoffs.

"We have every confidence in our ability to have good negotiations," said David Panagore, the city's chief operating officer. "We expect to treat all employees on a fair and equitable basis. The goal is to avoid layoffs."

Panagore said the city has saved an estimated $2.2 million in the current fiscal year through a combination of union concessions, pension savings and early retirement incentives.

He declined to say how much the city hopes to get through this latest call for concessions. Talks have been ongoing, he said, and no agreements have been reached.

Elizabeth Kavanah, president of Local 2001, City of Hartford Professional Employees Association CSEA/SEIU, which represents 48 Hartford workers, said she looks forward to discussing the issue with city officials. But she said the union hopes to avoid givebacks.

"We think there's still room and time to come up with other solutions," Kavanah said. "There are other ways to obtain additional cost savings."

Last year, the employees association took four furlough days and had no wage increase, she said.

Richard Rodriguez, president of the Hartford Police Union, said the union already is in negotiations with the city over a collective bargaining agreement.

"I'll leave it up to that process to see whether the union and the city can come to a successful agreement," he said. Calls to the Hartford Firefighters Association were not returned Thursday.

News that the city was seeking union concessions frustrated Clarke King. King, president of AFSCME Local 1716, said the consensus of his members is that no one wants to give anything back.

He suggested that the city instead cut spending further from areas like the arts or the mayor's office. The local agreed to four furlough days last year, he noted, and workers haven't had a wage increase in two years.

"It can't keep coming from the workers and services," King said. "They just have to find new ways."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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