HARTFORD — As details emerge about concessions that Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin is seeking from the union representing the city’s firefighters, dozens of high-ranking veterans are putting in for retirement.
Fire Chief Reginald Freeman said this week that more than 50 firefighters have put in their retirement papers, and he expects that number to grow to between 80 and 90 by the end of the fiscal year, June 30. The department currently has 294 firefighters.
Thomas J. Garrahy, a 22-year veteran who is among the department’s eight deputy chiefs expected to leave, said Bronin’s proposal is so onerous it doesn’t leave many options for the firefighters pondering retirement.
The proposal, Garrahy said, would increase the amount of hours he works weekly from 42 to 56 with no overtime. It would result in the loss of many experienced firefighters, he said.
But the chief says that while it’s not an ideal situation, city residents can count on the fire department to protect their lives and property.
“Failure’s not an option, we’re going to make it work, regardless,” Freeman said.
When Freeman began work in Hartford in February, he knew that the uncertainty of the next contract would lead to some retirements, but at the time he expected that number to be about 10.
Among the concessions Bronin is seeking from the Hartford Firefighters Association are wage freezes and rollbacks to 2015 pay levels, caps on unused sick leave and vacation days, no city-provided insurance after the age of 65, a change from 24 hours on duty and 72 hours off duty to 24-on, 48-off; and the elimination of two city fire companies, according to documents obtained by The Courant.
Union officials said the proposal would result in a savings to the city of about $14.5 million annually from the fire department, though city administration officials dispute that figure. They said Wednesday that they are seeking roughly $8.3 million in total concessions from the fire union.
Vincent Fusco, president of the firefighters union, said that in his conversation with Bronin, “He said, ‘This is what I have to have — bottom line — no negotiations.'”
“We said, ‘We can work with you, but you say you have to have everything,'” Fusco said.
Fusco said the offer was so one-sided, he wouldn’t bring it back to the union membership for consideration. The shift reduction amounts to 33 percent more work with no pay increase, he said.
“What am I supposed to do with that?” he said.
City officials said the mayor has verbally offered “wage adjustments” to the firefighter’s union to offset increased hours.
The union and attorneys for the city are expected to hold a negotiation session on May 27.
Bronin on Wednesday called Fusco’s remarks “disappointing.”
“Hartford is facing a full-blown crisis and I hope that he’s willing to be part of the solution,” Bronin said in an emailed statement. “If he cares about the residents of Hartford, the members of other unions who are subject to layoffs, and the members of his own union who depend on having a sound, solvent city, then I hope he will come to the table with some ideas.”
He said: “We have proposed some specific concessions, but we have not asked for anywhere near $14.5 million from the firefighters union, and we’ve been very clear that our proposals are by no means the only way to get where we need to go.”
City officials also said that no layoffs would result from the closure of the fire companies under the concessions sought by the administration.
They said they were able to achieve cost savings in the police department by unilaterally shifting resources, such as moving officers back to patrol to reduce overtime, and that option was not available with the fire department due to the current collective bargaining agreement..
Bronin, who has called the city’s financial situation “dire,” has built a total of $15.5 million in union concessions citywide into his budget for the coming fiscal year.
His target is above what union officials had pledged to provide. Members said in April they were aiming for $8 million to $12 million in savings through givebacks.
Hartford is facing a $48.5 million budget deficit next year. In addition to the concessions, Bronin has proposed draining the city’s rainy day fund, transferring city-owned Batterson Park in Farmington to Hartford’s pension fund, cutting departmental budgets, and eliminating city subsidies for parades and festivals, among other things.
Freeman, the fire chief, said he has made his concerns about losing so much leadership in his department known to Bronin. Freeman said that he expects to promote firefighters at a more rapid pace to fill the void and that the department will expand professional development opportunities and constantly evaluate and assess performance.
“We will be doing things we wouldn’t typically do,” Freeman said.