Hartford Mayor Bronin Meets With Unions, Hoping For Concessions

Hartford mayor Bronin

HARTFORD — Mayor Luke Bronin pressed ahead with union talks Tuesday, a day after the city council rebuffed a proposal to support financial oversight legislation that Bronin has championed.

Bronin arranged meetings with the city’s unions that are expected to bleed into Wednesday. The mayor’s first budget, to be released in less than two weeks, will include union concessions, though Bronin wouldn’t put a dollar figure on it.

“This budget only gets closed with substantial changes in contracts, along with other cuts that are going to be painful,” he said Tuesday.

The meetings come after the council refused to back a bill now before the legislature’s finance committee that would create an oversight panel to control union negotiations. The panel would review Hartford’s finances and make suggestions. It would also have the power to approve or reject collective bargaining contracts for a new term, including those of the board of education.

Council members on Monday heard from dozens of union officials who urged them not to support the measure. Many said the proposal amounted to union-busting and a “power grab” by Hartford’s new mayor.

Bronin has advocated for the bill, saying the city must take dramatic steps to close a $48.5 million budget gap next year. Though it’s early in the negotiation process, Bronin said he urged the bill along because the legislature is only in session until May 4.

The council ultimately decided not to back the proposed legislation.

Bronin said Tuesday that he didn’t see the move as a setback.

“I think these were always going to be tough negotiations, no matter what,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some significant changes to come anywhere close to balancing the budget.”

Richard Holton, president of the Hartford Police Union, said he planned to meet with Bronin Wednesday morning.

“We’ll do what we need to do to help the city out, but we’re not going to eviscerate our contracts either,” he said. “We all have to have realistic expectations of what we can accomplish.”

Bronin said last month he was hoping for as much as $15 million to $20 million in savings through concessions.

The city’s unions are planning a press conference Thursday morning, at which members are expected to discuss their willingness to help the city in its budget crisis. It is unclear if specifics about concessions would come up.

Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said the council’s refusal to support the oversight legislation sent a message to state lawmakers. The bill had already faced opposition from members of the city’s legislative delegation.

Ritter said the bill could be revised or new legislation could be introduced, but the version before lawmakers probably wouldn’t pass.

“At this point … the best thing is to hit the reset button, take [the bill] off the table and ask the city, ‘What are you looking for the Hartford delegation to do for you?'” Ritter said. “We’re waiting for the council and the mayor to come together and decide what, if anything, they want for legislation.”

http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-finances-union-disarray-0406-20160405-story.html