Claremont Inks Police, Fire Pacts
Claremont — Police and firefighters will see raises in their pay scale for the first time in five years and will also begin paying toward health insurance under three-year contracts approved by the City Council late Wednesday night.
It is the first contract for either union since 2009 and ends a protracted bargaining fight between the public safety unions and city over sharing the cost of health insurance in exchange for wage increases.
In the past, the city paid 100 percent of those costs and was refusing to negotiate any agreement that did not include sharing of health insurance premiums.
“I think it is a good deal for members,” said Claremont Police Officer Andrew O’Hearne, who is the union representative for AFSCME Council 93. “It begins moving us in the right direction.”
The additional cost to taxpayers for the raises in the police contract will be zero in the first year, because the money is coming from a refund from the Local Government Center, $104,610 in the second year and $171,657 in the third year.
For the firefighters’ agreement, the cost is $4,894 in year one, $8,884 in year two and $31,009 in year three.
Though he was glad to reach an agreement and hopes it helps cut down on the department’s turnover rate of the last few years, O’Hearne said five years without a contract still hurts when trying to be competitive with other departments. (Police did get annual step increases over that time frame, based on their years of service).
“We are still behind the ‘8 ball,’ ” O’Hearne said. “We are not where we should be. Other departments can hire at better pay so until we catch up, they will use Claremont as a stepping stone.”
City Manager Guy Santagate said the entire process, with both unions, went on too long and was a trying for everyone. He was pleased they could finally reach an acceptable compromise on health insurance.
“We had to get some contribution and that was the main sticking point,” Santagate said. “I’m delighted we finally broke through. We think it is a fair deal for them and a fair deal for taxpayers.”
According to information provided by the city administration, police will receive the equivalent of net pay increase of 5.4 percent over three years and firefighters 5.2 percent for the same period.
O’Hearne did not see a connection between the firefighters and city reaching an agreement in October and the police union coming to terms a month later, pointing out they have separate representation.
Instead, he believes the news this summer that some department heads had received pay raises the last few years was a catalyst in getting the city to agree.
“In my opinion, we brought to light in radio ads the raises for the bosses but no union raises,” O’Hearne said. “My understanding is that there were numerous calls.”
Santagate said in August those raises were because of the managers’ duties or to bring pay scales in line with others with similar jobs. He did not respond directly to O’Hearne’s claim but understands negotiations can be frustrating as both sides think “they are right.”
“There is always some friction in negotiations and this was going on too long,” he said. “The length of time was wearing on people. But I think both sides came out OK in the end.”
In October, the City Council accepted a fact finder report, from a different person, on the negotiations with the union representing the firefighters, IAFF 1571 and that became the basis for the contract approved Wednesday.
“This change means significant savings going forward,” Santagate said in memorandums to the council on both contracts.
By having employees move to the Thornton plan, Santagate said the city would be saving anywhere from $114 to $310 a month per employee depending on the type of plan. Under the firefighters contract, the city’s monthly savings would range from $88 to $239 per employee, the city manager said.
Police have blamed the departure of several experienced officers over the last few years on the lack of a contract and said it was hurting morale.
Claremont Police Chief Alex Scott, frustrated as well with the stalled contract talks, said Thursday the new pact should help his department.
“The important piece of finally having a contract is that it creates a little stability over the next three years and puts us in a position to move forward as opposed to remaining stagnant or going backward,” Scott said.
The chief suggested the sour economy that took hold about the same time negotiations on a new contract were beginning had an impact on the length of time it took to reach a deal.
“I’m very thankful we are out of that and I think both sides did a remarkable job to work through this.”
Finance Director Mary Walter and Santagate said they are close to an agreement with the Public Works union and if they can reach a deal, they may call for a special council meeting instead of waiting for the regular December meeting.
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com.