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TMCNet:  Unionized New Haven custodians 'want to fight to the end'

[August 10, 2011]

Unionized New Haven custodians 'want to fight to the end'

NEW HAVEN, Aug 09, 2011 (New Haven Register - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Last week's rejection of a proposed settlement between the city and school custodians came down to anxiety over job losses, union sources said Monday.

The tentative agreement, which was voted down Friday, would have reduced the work force from its current level of 157 workers to 100 workers by July 1. Though early retirement incentives were offered as part of the settlement, the majority of members wanted to roll the dice with arbitration rather than sign a contract that leaves 57 people without jobs in a bad economy.

"At this point, the membership spoke and they want to go to arbitration. And we support them," said Robert Montuori, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 287.

He said union members want to "fight to the end." That means both sides will be heading back to arbitration, where a three-member panel will decide their fate. A decision isn't expected until the fall.

The city has been locked in a bitter arbitration battle with Local 287 over a new contract to replace the pact that expired in 2009. The city has pushed for full privatization of services, and even lined up a vendor to provide staff to clean the schools. The settlement was a compromise that would have slashed the work force by more than half and outsourced some cleaning services, but avoided total privatization.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said Monday that arbitration appears inevitable.

"I think it's kind of hard to imagine that there is any type of agreement that membership will vote for at this point," he said.

DeStefano said the proposed contract would have saved the city $4 million this year, and $5 million next year. The original proposal for total outsourcing of custodial services would have saved $7 million.

"The later we get into the fiscal year, the harder it gets to realize the full amount of savings," he warned.

Kevin Murphy, director of collective bargaining and organizing for AFSCME, Council 4, said the custodians are sick of taking the blame for the city's budget woes.

"I think they got tired of being made a scapegoat and would rather take their chances on arbitration," he said.

DeStefano said he did not think the custodial contract delay would have a major effect on other union negotiations.

The settlement called for 2 percent wage increases this year and next, with no increase for the previous two years. Employee health care contributions were to go up 3 percent, or workers could opt for a high-deductible health plan at no cost in the first year. Both health plans will have future cost increases. On pensions, employee contributions would increase from 6 to 9 percent. Also, there is a tiered schedule of changes that allows employees with 20 or more years of service to keep their existing pension plan. Other employees could see changes to their pension plan regarding cost of living rates and retiree health care coverage based on their years of service.

DeStefano said the pension changes included in the settlement were on target with what the city wants. The less aggressive health care proposal was meant to serve as a "fair trade-off" for shrinking the custodian work force, he said.

Call Abbe Smith at 203-789-5615.

To see more of New Haven Register, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.nhregister.com. Copyright (c) 2011, New Haven Register, Conn.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.

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