Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mayor, unions discuss ways to avoid layoffs

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
— With hope dwindling for a state bailout, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has met with union leaders to outline possible concessions to stave off layoffs.
According to those in attendance at the meeting late last week, DeStefano seeks $6 million in concessions from unions, including a 5 percent to 6 percent increase in health benefit premiums and an increase in employee pension contributions.
“He’s trying to do everything to prevent layoffs, but the concessions seem to be a little out of whack. … We certainly want to do everything we can do to prevent layoffs, but I’m not sure how much we can do,” said Larry Amendola, president of AFSCME, Local 3144, the city management union.
“It’s got to be realistic,” Amendola said.
Amendola suggested buyouts and a furlough program instead, in which employees could take days off and return money to the city.
Robert Montuori, president of AFSCME, Local 287, said formal negotiations have not yet begun. While DeStefano did not suggest layoffs, Montuori said the mayor would not rule out the possibility when asked.
“I give him credit. He’s still working the state on behalf of us to avoid any possible problems, but at this point it doesn’t look too good,” he said.
“I think the way to save money … would be to terminate the city’s contract with Aramark,” he said, pointing a finger at the Philadelphia-based company that manages school food services and maintenance. The district recently decided not to renew its food service contract with Aramark, but is reviewing bids on the maintenance side.
“My bargaining unit is strapped like every other taxpayer. We pay the same for fuel. We’re in the same boat as everyone else,” he said.
New Haven Federation of Teachers President Dave Cicarella called the meeting preliminary.
“I want to see exactly how much aid is coming,” he said. “It was nice of (DeStefano) to give us a heads-up, but it seemed kind of preliminary. … I wasn’t too concerned.”
“This isn’t an expenditure problem on the city side. It’s a revenue problem,” said mayoral Chief of Staff Sean Matteson. “We’ll get there by being a team. (Unions) have been great going up to Hartford, using their membership lobbying, telephone calls, writing letters. They are vested in the process. They get it.”
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or at ebenton@nhregister.com.

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