After years of administrative turmoil at the New Haven Fire Department, the Board of Alders unanimously approved a contract extension through June 2018.
Although the union ratified the contract last month, the full Board of Alders waited until their meeting last night to deliberate on the proposal. The approved contract is marked by consensus on the weighting of the oral and written portions of promotion exams — a dispute that had blocked hiring at the department for six years — as well as on a new health insurance plan for the fire union. The oral section of the exam will be weighted at 65 percent on the exams, whereas previously it was weighted at 40 percent.
The solution to the long-running dispute over the test weighting will allow for increased hiring at the fire department, said Ward 18 Alder Alphonse Paolillo, Jr.
“Settling the exam weights for both the lieutenant and captain’s exams — that’s positive for the department,” said Paolillo. “And that’s positive for the city, since the department has not hired in quite a long time.”
Paolillo added that about 15 cadets had graduated from the academy earlier in the day. City officials said they hope that, once the pace of hiring picks up at the department, overtime costs will begin to go down. At a projected $8.5 million this year, overtime costs are running far ahead of the $3.9 million budgeted.
The fire department plans on graduating 86 cadets from its academy in the near future.
The Finance Committee of the Board of Alders had discussed the contract at their meeting on Oct. 30. At that meeting, those in attendance said there was an evident sense that the contract represented a new era for the fire department and its relations with the city.
Negotiations over the health insurance plan for the fire union had proved contentious, especially over the issue of summary plan descriptions — legal documents that describe coverage obligations under the health insurance plans, said Joseph Fields, an attorney for the fire union at the Finance Committee meeting last week.
Under the previous contracts, New Haven had not provided SPDs to firefighters. Additionally, the city had struck out some clauses from health insurance plans. Fields said that this sort of action was unprecedented.
“Lack of forthrightness has occurred in New Haven with regard to the collective bargaining here,” Fields said. “What’s being done here isn’t correct — it needs to be fixed.”
Marcus Paca, the labor relations director, confirmed that the city does not currently provide firefighters with SPDs.
Fields said that New Haven’s failure to provide SPDs was not the product of a mistake in the system. Rather, it was a deliberate act, he said.
“I believe there was a conscious decision on the part of a previous labor relations director not to give out the document,” Fields said. “And the way I know is that he told me.”
Ward 5 Alder and Board President Jorge Perez brought the dispute to an end by declaring that the city would correct past mistakes and agree to provide the firefighters with static SPDs under the new contract.
The motion the Board approved last night reflected Perez’s promise the week before.
“The union agrees not to challenge former SPDs [under the new contract],” Paolillo said. “The city agrees to work with the union on current SPDs.”
New Haven has ten fire stations across the city.