Topic:
LABOR UNIONS; CONTRACTS; FIRE DEPARTMENTS;
Location:
FIRE DEPARTMENTS AND FIREMEN;

OLR Research Report


September 14, 2004

 

2004-R-0705

FIREFIGHTER UNION CONTRACT COMPARISON

By: John Moran, Associate Analyst

You asked us to summarize the new Waterbury firefighters union contract and compare it with those in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Stamford. This report focuses on the contracts' general provisions.

SUMMARY

Last month the Waterbury Financial Planning and Assistance Board imposed a new contract on the city firefighters that (1) changes their work schedule, (2) increases their average work week by eight hours and later by another three hours a week, (3) reduces their paid sick leave, and (4) sets a higher threshold of hours worked before they can earn time and a half pay for overtime. But the firefighters receive a 7% pay increase the first year of the four-year deal with respective increases of 2%, 3%, and 2% in each of the following three years. These changes are in addition to union concessions the financial board won in 2001, such as a higher employee contribution for the health insurance policy. A union challenge to the new contract is pending in court.

In a pay comparison using four distinct firefighter positions, Waterbury firefighters are paid less than the five-city average of any of the positions except for entry-level firefighter. They also have a longer workweek, less paid sick leave, and less vacation than any of the other four cities. Earning time and a half for overtime is more difficult to reach for Waterbury firefighters than for those in three of the four other cities.

Details about the various health insurance plans, and the options within each plan or contract for co-pay levels, deductibles, prescription plans, and other health insurance items are not included in this report. These elements are rather complicated and the many options make it difficult to compare them in summary form across the five cities. We could address plan options in a separate report if you wish.

WATERBURY FIREFIGHTERS AND THE FINANCIAL OVERSIGHT BOARD

Background

Waterbury's finances and labor relations have been under the state-created oversight board since 2001 when the legislature created the board due to the city's financial crisis (SA 01-1). The board has broad powers including the authority to reject proposed union contracts and act as the binding arbitration board for all the city's labor issues. (For more on the board's authority, see the bill analysis for SA 01-1 (HB 6952).)

Waterbury Firefighters had been operating under an order from the board that ended on June 30. The board issued a new order on August 4 that covers the contract period of July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2008. Currently, the union is taking the board to court in an attempt to have the order vacated. A judge ruled on Sept. 8 that the city could implement the new contract (the board's order) while the court hears arguments over whether the board had the authority to conduct a second round of arbitration after the first round produced no agreement. The new contract terms, including the raise and new work schedule, began on Sept. 11.

First Oversight Board Contract

The contract that expired on June 30, 2004 was the result of the first round of negotiations between the oversight board and the firefighters union. The board issued the decision on December 14, 2001 and it was retroactive to July 1, 1999. The 2001 order, which the union agreed to due to the city's financial crisis, made a number of significant changes including:

1. instituted new health insurance premium employee contributions of 20%, 12.5%, or 5%, depending upon which of three plans the employee chooses;

2. instituted separate 20% insurance premium contributions for employees who enroll in the prescription plan or the dental plan;

3. reduced sick days from 18 a year to 12 a year, and reduced the maximum accrual of sick days from 325 to 180 days;

4. provided pay raises of 2.5% a year for each of the three contract years; and

5. increased service requirement for retirement from 20 to 25 years (Of the other four cities, only Bridgeport requires 25 years before retirement eligibility; the others require 20 years).

The union estimates the contract cost the average firefighter over $15,000 a year when all changes are considered.

New Oversight Board Contract

The new oversight board order, issued on August 4, made numerous changes to the firefighters' working conditions. The order boosts the average workweek from 42 to 50 hours for the first two years of the contract, then up to 53 hours for the last two years.

It also eliminates the previous work schedule of three 10-hour days on, three days off, three 14-hour nights on, and three days off. The new schedule is 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, then four days off. In any 27-day period firefighters will get an extra day off. To go to an average 53-hour week, they will have instead an extra half day off in any 27-day period.

Most fire departments in the state work three 10-hour day shifts, followed by three days off, followed by three 14-hour night shifts, followed by three days off. Last year Hartford went to a 24 hours on, three-days off, 24 hours on, three days off work schedule.

The oversight board deadlocked in a tie vote over a proposed contract that called for 24-hour shifts, but kept a 43-hour week. The deadlock triggered the second round of arbitration that the union is challenging in court.

By the end of the new order's four-year contract, the firefighters will be working a 25% longer week (from 42 to 53 hours) for a 14% pay increase (yearly wage increases of 7%, 2%, 3%, and 2%). When compounded, the raise is 14.7%.

The new order also set a higher threshold for earning time-and-a-half pay for overtime. Under the 24-hour work schedule, firefighters will have to work 204 hours during a 27-day cycle before any additional hours worked will earn time and a half. This means that they will get time-and-a-half pay for any hours worked more than 51 hours a week. It is not clear what this will mean when they go to an average 53-hour workweek in two years.

The new order removes the pension plan from collective bargaining; it will now be governed by city ordinance. The order also reduced paid sick leave from accruing 12 hours a month, the equivalent of one day under the old schedule, to eight hours a month.

COMPARING WATERBURY TO THE OTHER FOUR LARGEST CITIES

Table 1 compares the firefighter pay scales for four positions in the state's five largest cities based on pay in effect for FY 2003-04. The numbers show base pay excluding additional pay differentials, which some cities do not have. Holiday pay, special assignments, and additional pay for qualified emergency medical technicians are some examples of pay differentials.

Table 1: Firefighter Salary Comparison in

Connecticut's Five Largest Cities (FY 2003-04)

Level

Waterbury

Bridgeport

Hartford

New Haven

Stamford

Entry

$39,572

$35,219

$44,681

$29,758

$37,097

Top Firefighter*

49,215

46,169

53,924

54,870

56,879

Lieutenant**

54,134

53,093

61,841

61,466

64,862

Captain**

59,053

61,060

71,058

68,266

74,910

           

Note: Figures do not include holiday pay, special assignments, or other pay differentials that vary from city to city.

* The top step is typically achieved after four or five years on the job.

**Where lieutenant and captain have more than one step, the highest step is shown.

Source: Firefighter unions and city personnel offices.

Table 2 compares Waterbury salaries for the same four positions to the average for each position for the five cities. The comparison shows Waterbury only exceeds the five-city average for entry-level firefighters.

Table 2 Comparison of Waterbury Firefighters Pay to

the Five City Averages (FY 2003-04)

Level

Waterbury

5 City

Average

Entry

$39,572

$37,265

Top firefighter

49,215

52,211

Lieutenant

54,134

59,079

Captain

59,053

66,869

     

Source: Firefighter unions and city personnel offices.

Table 3 compares selected firefighter benefits and obligations in the five cities. Waterbury firefighters have a longer workweek, less paid sick leave, and less vacation than any of the other four fire departments. Earning time and a half for overtime is more difficult to reach for Waterbury firefighters than for those in three of the four other cities; Hartford has eliminated time-and-a-half pay altogether for firefighters.

Waterbury's new work schedule is the first in Connecticut to have 24-hour work shifts scheduled so close together. It consists of 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, followed by three days off plus an additional day off every 27 days, Hartford has 24-hour shifts, also, but they have three days off between shifts.

As for health insurance premium employee contributions, Waterbury's highest percentage (20%) of the three options is higher than that for any of the other cities. But the two lower options, 5% and 12%, are more in line with what other cities deduct from firefighters' pay for health insurance.

Table 3: Comparison of Selected Current Firefighter

Benefits for Five Cities

Contract Component

Waterbury

Bridgeport

Hartford

New

Haven

Stamford

Health Insurance

Premium Employee

Contribution

5%, 12%, or 20% of premium, depending upon plan chosen

$1.50, $10.77, or $12.60 per week depending upon whether single, couple, of family plan

10% of premium

5%, 7%, or 10% of premium depending upon plan chosen

5% of premium for single, 10% for couple, and 12.5% for family

Paid Sick Leave

8 hours per month; due to 24-hour shifts firefighters are charged three 8-hour “days” for a shift

Unlimited

15 days a year; due to 24-hour shifts, firefighters are charged 2 days for missing a shift

15 days a year

Unlimited

Vacation

During 1st year – 1 week; after 1st year – 2 weeks; after 10 years – 3 weeks

During 1st year – 12 days; after 1st year – 2 weeks; after 5th year – 3 weeks; after 10th year – 4 weeks; after 15th year -- 4 weeks and 3 days; after 20 years – 5 weeks and 3 days

After 1st year of service – 2 weeks; after 5 years – 3 weeks; after 15 years – 4 weeks

1st through 5th years – 2 weeks; after 5 years – 3 weeks; after 12 years –4 weeks; after 20 years – 5 weeks

During 1st year to 4th year – 10 days; after 4th year --15 days; after 10th year --20 days; after 20 years – 25 days

Overtime (time and a half pay)

Begins after working 204 hours in a 27 day cycle

Begins with any hours above the standard 42 hour week

No longer pays any time and a half for overtime

Begins with anything more than regular work week

Begins with anything more than regular work week

Work Schedule

24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, three days off; plus another day off every 27 days

Three 10-hour days, three days off, three 14-hour overnights, three days off

24 hours on, three days off, 24 hours on, three days off

Same three-on, three-off schedule as Bridgeport

Same three-on, three-off schedule as Bridgeport

Average Workweek

50 hours, will become 53 in 2006

42 hours

42 hours

42 hours

42 hours

Source: Firefighter unions and city personnel offices

JM:ro