Mackenzie Hawkins

New Haven’s Board of Alders approved a new six-year contract with the Elm City’s fire union on Monday after a series of extended negotiations on salaries and benefits.

After months of difficult talks between the city and union Local 825, the Board of Alders approved a tentative deal on Sept. 6. The ratification closely followed a new memorandum of understanding signed on July 12, over a year after the union’s previous contract expired.

At Monday’s meeting, alders voiced concerns about a lack of fiscal information about the contract — the board is set to receive that information next week. Still, the lack of budgetary information and the memorandum motion’s pending status didn’t stop the alders from unanimously approving the new contract, which includes salary increases as well as changes to firefighters’ benefits.

“We’ve finally been able to hire a large number of city residents,” Local 825 President Frank Ricci told the News in an interview at the Board of Alders meeting. “Unfortunately, at the same time that [the city] hired city residents and welcomed them onto the job, [the city] took [its] other hand and slashed all their benefits, so we’re restoring some of those key benefits to some of our newer members.”

Among other benefits, the contract includes an 11 percent pay increase over its lifetime and stipulates that retired firefighters will pay 15 percent of spousal health care costs — the amount required for active firefighters — rather than the retiree level of 50 percent.

At the meeting, Ward 25 Alder Adam Marchand praised these measures and highlighted the cost-saving mechanisms built into the agreement. The contract requires employees to participate in cost-avoiding preventative health actions like designating a primary care physician and receiving annual checkups. The city, according to Marchand, will enjoy $1.2 million in savings as a result of a reduction of the number of sick days per month from 1.25 to 1. Finally, employees will be required to contribute 11.5 percent of their annual salaries to their pension fund — a step up from the previous 11 percent.

Still, several alders still expressed concerns about the financial impact of the contract given the Elm City’s fiscal woes.

“As heroic as our firefighters are to many of us, I’m very worried that we still have a responsibility to carefully evaluate this contract and consider its costs in the context of all the critical needs of the city,” Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth ‘90 LAW ‘94 said.

Roth warned that in May, the Board of Alders will have to make tough decisions regarding other essential city services in the face of a depleted municipal budget. In particular, she voiced her concerns about the contract’s health care costs given the significant reduction in how much retirees are required to contribute.

Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter echoed Roth and cited the $616 million the Elm City owes every year in other post-employment benefit liabilities. With $83 million in additional medical costs just last year, “runaway” healthcare costs account for one of every five dollars spent by the City of New Haven.

In light of these concerns, Roth argued that the Board of Alders needed full fiscal information before making a decision on the new contract. Given that the Board will not receive a complete report until next week, she motioned to postpone the vote to sometime between Monday’s meeting and the voting deadline on Oct. 21. Her motion also came on the heels of the newly approved memorandum, which is still pending full review and, she claimed, is relevant to the contract decision.

According to the New Haven Independent, this memorandum would give the fire chief discretion to reduce minimum staffing requirements from 72 to 69 firefighters per shift, resulting in nearly $1.3 million in annual personnel savings. If staffing were reduced, the fire department would also be forced to remove all of the city’s Advanced Life Support emergency medical units in order to relocate staff to existing squads. This, Ricci told the New Haven Independent, will help the fire department achieve its aim of having a neighborhood fire engine in every district.

Roth emphasized that these potential staffing changes constitute critical information for the Board’s decision on the contract. However, postponement was not granted, and the Board of Alders moved forward with a full vote on Monday.

The Board of Alders meets on the first and third Monday of every month at 165 Church St.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu