No challenge to arbitrators

New contract in place for borough firefighters

NAUGATUCK — Nearly two years after the last firefighters’ contract ran out, the borough and the Naugatuck Fire Fighters Union Local 1219 have entered into a new agreement.

The contract is a three-year deal that is retroactive to July 1, 2015 and runs until June 30, 2018.

The contract was in arbitration since the end of 2015. Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said arbitrators issued an award April 26, and the borough had until May 26 to either reject it, send it to further arbitration or do nothing.

During a special meeting on May 22, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses chose not to make a motion on the contract. Not taking action allowed the contract to go into effect, which it officially did on May 26.

“When the arbitration panel makes a decision, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses has 30 days to reject it. If you don’t reject it, it is approved,” Hess said.

According to a cost analysis provided by Hess, the overall net cost increase of the contract is $115,425.

Hess said the biggest change came in health insurance.

Under the contract, firefighters have a choice of remaining in their current health benefit plan or transferring to a high deductible health care plan until Dec. 31. Those who remain in the health benefit plan will contribute 15 percent toward the annual premium of the plan.

The plan includes a $25 co-pay for regular office visits, a $200 co-pay for inpatient visits and a $150 co-pay for outpatient visits.

The high deductible health care plan has a $2,000/$4,000 deductible. Under the contract, the borough pays 50 percent of the deductible, for now. Once the deductible is reached, the plan covers 100 percent of the cost in network and 70 percent of the cost out of network.

As of Jan. 1, 2018, all firefighters will be moved to the high deductible health care plan.

Starting at that time, firefighters will be responsible for 100 percent of their deductible. The plan will still cover 100 percent of the cost in network after the deductible is reached and 70 percent of the cost out of network.

Hess called shifting employees to a high deductible health care plan one of the borough’s “major objectives.”

“One of the main reasons our expenses didn’t go up like almost every other towns is we are doing much better on health insurance. At the start, our goal has been to treat health care as the most important issue,” Hess said.

Union Local 1219 President Tom Moore said the union began offering the option of a high deductible health care plan to its members in July 2005. About half of its members switched at the time, he said. Although it was the first union in the borough to do so, the fact the new contract was in arbitration for more than a year meant it will be the last to stop offering the health benefit plan.

In order to obtain savings on health care, the borough had to concede to a higher increase in wages than it originally wanted, Hess said.

Firefighters will receive a 2.5 percent increase in salary for every year of the contract, including retroactively, according to the deal. Firefighters will make between $52,910 and $61,320 this year.

The salary increases will be offset some by savings in health insurance, Hess said.

Hess felt the contract is an overall good thing for the borough. He pointed out that his predecessor, former Mayor Robert Mezzo, was mainly focused on moving unions from a pension plan to a 401K-style plan.

“I’ve been focusing on health care. In the long term those are the two most expensive issues,” Hess said.

Moore said the contract is fair for the union and the borough.

“I’m happy with it. The wages were fair. I think both sides made out,” Moore said.

Moore said he’s already turned his attention to the next contract, since negotiations begin in March 2018.

“We are moving forward. That’s behind us,” Moore said.