Retired Norwalk firefighters protest new contract

Retired Norwalk firefighter Michael Shanahan, shown on a City Hall screen over Council member Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D), left, and Council member Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), decries changes to his health benefits on Tuesday.

NORWALK, Conn. — A small group of retired Norwalk firefighters made their presence known Tuesday as the Common Council worked to approve a new contract negotiated by the firefighters’ union.

“I am just wondering why the rules changed, to change our benefits now? Why couldn’t you just wait until we all die?” Michael Shannahan said at the beginning of the meeting. “…Nobody’s thinking about us, the retirees. It’s an election year, I hope you all remember that.”

Shannahan sat down with about 10 people, all of whom expressed objections to the new contract transitioning them to Connecticut Partnership 2.0, a state-run health care system.

“There’s 700 active (employees), 1,400-1500 retirees,” Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Ray Burney explained to the Council. “We’re talking about 2,000 people who are going to be moved into 2.0 on Jan. 1st. So, there’s a whole order of magnitude going on here. This is collective bargaining, not individual. There is no doubt in anybody’s assessment that it’s beneficial to the city and it’s beneficial to the employee population, active and retired, as a general proposition. There’s going to be one offs all the time when you are talking about 2,000 people and health benefits, there’s always going to be one offs. But collectively, it’s a good deal for the city and a good deal for the employees and retirees that are affected by it.”

City and Board of Education employees were asked to make the switch during this year’s budget cycle to save the city money.

It’s not the first time the retirees’ health insurance carrier has been switched, Burney said, defining that as “their benefit provider has changed two or three times.”

The union approved the deal on a 10 to one ratio, he said.

Council member Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) asked Burney about doctors being out of network under 2.0; Burney said there’s a “90 percent overlay of doctors” and 2.0 representatives will pursue doctors outside of the network as aggressively as possible. The benefits are equivalent or better than what the retirees already have, in said in response to Council member Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), with co-pays going from $25 to $15 and contributions going down.

“I understand the angst,” Burney said, explaining that the effort has gone toward getting unions to agree to the switch by Jan. 1, and there are sessions planned this month and in December to explain details to retirees.

Retirees were not part of the negotiations, he said.

“Their union represents their interest at the table,” Burney said, drawing laughter from the retirees.

“I don’t think we have options that we do with other kinds of items that come before us because of the timelines associated with collective bargaining,” Kimmel said, leading Council member Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) to explain that the Council is not allowed to make amendments to a contract.

“It’s a take it or leave it,” he said, and Kimmel explained that if the Council rejected the contract it would go to binding arbitration.

“Our job is generally to look at the net cost (of a contract) to the city, net cost, we understand that salary increases are only one side of that,” Kimmel said.

Generally if the net cost is under a benchmark of a 2.5 percent increase it’s approved, he said. This prevents the Council from micromanaging a contract, which might be a delicate balance.

“This was not drafted in haste. … There was over a year conversation between the union and the city, and both parties are satisfied,” Personnel Committee Chairman Nick Sacchinelli (D-At Large) said.

“I don’t think anything in the contract that is objectionable. It’s pretty much the police contract – we already voted on the police contract. What’s troubling me is that the retirees were not communicated with,” Hempstead suggested that the matter be tabled.

The situation likely wouldn’t change, Burney said.

Norwalk Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 830, President Elefterios “Lefty” Petrides declined to come to the podium.

“I am as comfortable as I can be with a new plan,” he said, in response to Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B).

He spoke to the retirees, and said they had been re a liason.

“There’s language in the contract that allows the city to change plans, cost effective. It’s there. So why would you delay it for two weeks? … Don’t delay it, vote no. Just get it over with.

“We are now negotiating aspects that the union negotiated, which is not our job,” Council President John Igneri (D-District E) said.

“It was more of a courtesy to the people in the audience,” Hempstead said, of his suggestion that the item be tabled. “I feel bad for retirees, if you are affected in a negative sense. but there is nothing here that we can do as a Council that can change that. We can’t change that. It would have to be next time in negotiation.”

“People who served, people who put their lives on the line, are left out of the conversation, that’s absolutely horrible,” said Council member Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), whose father is a retired police officer. “… It’s a tough decision, it’s respect but it’s also a reality.”
The contract passed 11-0-3, with Steve Serasis (U-District A), Travis Simms (D-District B) and Bowman abstaining.

After the meeting, Petrides said that a liason for the retirees had been part of the negotiations, and, “It’s not up to the union to inform them.”


V October 11, 2017 at 8:59 am

Biggest scam going – these people live large on the BACKS OF THE MIDDLE CLASS. Work 2 days, run a side business for the other 3 days of the week and retire after 20-25 years and make the taxpayer subsidize you.

Carolyn Shannahan October 11, 2017 at 11:08 am

Seriously, what an ignorant statement. You obviously know nothing about being a firefighter or living with one. Living large, is that what you think? The firefighters risk their lives for people like you. Some deal with medical problem because of all the junk they breathed in before all the new tech came out. They paid into their retirement benefits, did you know that? Do you know that they work on Holidays, Birthdays and miss their children’s school events. Oh and I’m sorry do you really want a 65 year old firefighter lifting you up when you are laying on the ground with smoke inhalation?

V October 11, 2017 at 1:41 pm

It’s an old boy network that just allowed the first female firefighter to join for crying out loud!! And You’re an apologist because why?

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 11, 2017 at 2:46 pm

The state is in a financial crisis. Somewhere along the way, the Firefighter’s Union asked for and received things on behalf of Firefighters from the state—probably from people like our Senator Bob Duff—that the state can no longer afford and cannot sustain over the lifetime of a retired firefighter. I can’t blame the retirees for complaining. Change is difficult, even when it’s a reasonable ask. Sounds like their union reps didn’t advocate for them. .

Carol Andreoli October 11, 2017 at 3:38 pm

Excuse me V but if ever there was an insult directed ar a new hire you just made it! By all accounts the first female firefighter is very qualified and scored very high on all aspects of testing. She was not “allowed” to become the first female firefighter she was hired because she is a highly qualified individual and will be an asset to the Department. My congratulations to her and to the NFD.

Carol Andreoli October 11, 2017 at 5:04 pm

When did she apply before? Before making comments that are really misleading perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the testing process. If she applied in the past and qualified no doubt she would have bee on before 2017.

I’m sorry for anyone that has so little respect for our firefighters. Please remember they put their lives on the for us. As the old saying goes when others are running from a burning building they are running in. In addition they are on duty weekends, nights, holidays, family celebrations etc. Maybe that doesn’t seem to be much of a sacrifice to you but it is to them and their families. As for your remark that they retire after 20 to 25 years on the job…WRONG! Many like my husband retired after serving thirty plus years on the NFD. I proudly sign my name to my remarks in support of both the current and retired members of the NFD!

carolyn shannahan October 11, 2017 at 6:33 pm

Hi Donna, Would like to clarify a few points. When the firefighters negotiate a contract it is with the city, not the state. But, the most important point is that the retirees were guaranteed in writing that their benfits at the time they retired would always remain equal or better.

Donald October 11, 2017 at 7:40 pm

Carol Andreoli
“Please remember they put their lives on the for us. As the old saying goes when others are running from a burning building they are running in. In addition they are on duty weekends, nights, holidays, family celebrations etc.”
That is correct and that is the job that they signed up for and are paid very well for. Lets be honest not many jobs that pay 6 figures and have great benefits with the required education being a GED. The nights weekends and holidays are all paid at premium overtime. These are not people that do anything for free (volunteers) as in most parts of this country. I do respect the fire department however as with any job if you don’t like it you can always quit and be replaced with someone that will be thankful for the job. So please stop with that union tag line of “when others are running from a burning building they are running in.” as its old and worn out and cheapens any point that you are attempting to make.

Peter Franz October 11, 2017 at 10:10 pm

Thank you Carol Andreoli for making statements that many Norwalkers feel towards their Police and Fire Department workers.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 11, 2017 at 10:34 pm

Sorry @carolyn. My mistake. The firefighters negotiate with the city and not the state. Sounds like this group was blindsided, and I regret that. The long term obligations do seem unsustainable however.

Carol Andreoli October 12, 2017 at 1:57 pm

JP you are correct and Donald would do well to check his facts. Many of the firefighters have some college background and in many cases have colLege degrees! Another point many of the retirees never saw six figures and for those who joined the department in the sixties and seventies the pay scale was considerably less than that of workers in the private sector! Indeed they do the job they signed up for and do it selflessly and are dedicated to the safety of the citizens of Norwalk. Unfortunately Donald and V for whatever reasons appear to have a bias against the NFD.

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