Selectmen approve furlough days for town unions

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The Beacon Falls Board of Selectmen unanimously approved 10 furlough days for town employees in order to close a budget gap. FILE PHOTO
BEACON FALLS — Despite cries of foul play from town unions, the Board of Selectman voted Wednesday to institute 10 furlough days for town employees this fiscal year.

The board approved the furlough days to fill a hole in the town budget after unions failed to agree to a pay freeze and changes in longevity pay.

This year’s adopted budget includes $32,653 in savings by denying contractual wage increases and about $10,000 in savings from eliminating longevity pay.

During its meeting, the board considered using nine, 10 or 12 furlough days to balance the budget. Nine days would save the town $37,220, balancing out the cost of wage increases and 12 days would total $49,626 in savings, giving the town an extra buffer zone for its tight budget.

“We could use the money by going 12 furlough days…but is it fair?” First Selectman Susan Cable asked.

Selectman Dominick Sorrentino said the extra money could help in the case of some unforeseen expense.

“Our budget is so tight now, if there’s an unknown, we won’t be able to cover it,” Sorrentino said.

The board eventually agreed that 10 days, which equals$41,355 in labor savings, would cover the gap for both wage increases and longevity pay it had asked unions to give up.

Selectman Michael Krenesky pointed out that the board could always increase or decrease the number of furlough days later if the budget showed a surplus or deficit.

The board agreed to work out when employees will have to take their unpaid days off and prepare a schedule by July 15.

Krenesky said he wanted to work it out so it would have the least impact on residents possible. Furlough days may also fall during vacation time, Krenesky said.

“This is not an attempt to punish anyone,” he said.

Meanwhile, Council 4 American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) filed a complaint on behalf of the town’s three unions stating that that the town “interfered with, restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” under the Municipal Employee Relations Act.

In the letter sent to Katherine Foley, an agent on the Board of Labor Relations and copied to Cable, Donna Johnson, a staff representative from AFSCME, wrote that the town dominated or interfered with the administration of the union and refused to bargain collectively in good faith.

The complaint says the town told union members it would initiate no less than 12 furlough days because they rejected the town’s request for concessions.

Although the Board of Selectman discussed possible furlough days if unions didn’t agree to concessions, the complaint was filed before the furlough days were instituted.

According to the letter, the unions are seeking to prevent the town from “unilaterally changing the wages of bargaining union members” and the costs of the complaint.

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for Council 4 AFSCME, which represents municipal workers including in Beacon Falls, said town public service workers want to be helpful and part of a solution. They have demonstrated that in the past, he said.

“We are dealing with a first selectman who is tone-deaf, and it would be far better to sit down with us in an atmosphere of cooperation and trust instead of taking unilateral actions that violate our members rights under the law, and further hurts their morale and hurts public services in town.”

Cable has said each union contract is phrased a bit differently, but contract language allows the town to reduce work hours. The unions have argued the town has no contractual authority to institute furlough days.

A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for August 8.

The Republican American contributed to this article.