When New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. submitted his 2003-2004 budget proposal to the Board of Aldermen, he left one of the most contentious items for the end. Under the heading of “Concessions/Layoffs,” the budget calls for — without providing any specifics — $5.5 million in savings for the city.
But one month after DeStefano presented his plan to the board, the mayor said the city has completed negotiations with only one of its unions concerning possible concessions. With less than three months left until next year’s budget goes into effect, the progress of negotiations over the coming weeks will likely determine whether the city will make as many as 250 additional layoffs this summer.
DeStefano, who said the paraprofessionals are the only union to have agreed to concessions thus far, said the city had contacted all of its unions.
“I think it depends on the unions,” DeStefano said. “We’re still working at it every day.”
While DeStefano did not expect the Board of Aldermen to significantly change the $5.5 million figure, he said the final budget would depend largely on state aid. The mayor’s proposal projects almost $3 million less in state aid than last year’s budget, but with the governor’s biennial budget still under consideration in Hartford, the city may not know how much money it will receive from the state until after the city budget goes into effect.
William Clark, New Haven’s director of labor relations, said recent negotiations signed by the paraprofessionals’ and police unions have included such cost-saving measures as less expensive medical plans and diminished wage increases. DeStefano also said the focus of many of the discussions has been on health benefit plans.
“The more recent trend — that is with police and paraprofessionals — is that these contracts are beginning to be settled with some recognition of what our concession needs are,” Clark said.
But Clark said the teachers’ and firefighters’ unions have been less willing to consider possible concessions. He said unions that do not negotiate concessions with the city may have to face layoffs, especially given service cuts the city has recently implemented.
With education comprising over 40 percent of the city’s proposed budget, the mayor said issues concerning the teachers’ union will dominate the discussion over concessions in the upcoming months. But he said the city’s negotiations with the teachers had been “unproductive” thus far.
“I think they are not convinced of the need to provide concessions,” DeStefano said.
Leo Canty, the president of the Connecticut Federation of Educational and Professional Employees, said many of the unions in his organization — which includes the New Haven Federation of Teachers — have been in discussions with local municipalities across the state.
“It’s not a carte blanche type of thing where we say, ‘Go in our contract and pick and choose what you want to do,'” Canty said. “We’re always willing to help out, but it means the two parties need to get together.”
Canty said the history of negotiations between New Haven and the teachers’ union, as well as the city’s difficulty in attracting new teachers, might make the teachers less likely to grant concessions.
“In the New Haven case, the teachers have been a little battered and bruised on the economics for years,” Canty said. “So while the mayor has been coming in and seeking different things in the contract framework, I don’t think the union is that willing to give.”
Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt, the chairman of the finance committee, said the committee was currently considering the mayor’s proposed concessions. Because the labor negotiations are ongoing, the committee’s discussions with Clark Tuesday night were conducted in an “executive session” with all its proceedings remaining confidential.
“We want to be sure that these are reasonable concessions they’re asking for,” Voigt said. “There are ongoing discussions with the unions and once we have those figures in hand, we’ll know what to do with the rest of the budget.”
Both Clark and Voigt said the most plausible alternative to union concessions or layoffs would be raising property tax rates beyond the increase the mayor has already proposed — a move both said was unlikely.
Ward 25 Alderwoman Nancy Ahern, one of the board’s two Republicans, said the concessions estimate was a preliminary figure that might change over the course of the next fiscal year.
“Do we think it’s reasonable and attainable? I would say yes,” Ahern said. “Do I think the unions would agree with this? The answer is I don’t know.”