Hartford Unions Must Come To Table To Keep City Solvent

Hartford seal

Hartford’s financial picture is increasingly bleak. It needs more cooperation from its employee unions. The city and its unions must take every possible step to ensure that Hartford’s future doesn’t resemble Detroit’s recent past.

Mayor Luke Bronin says the city needs $15.5 million in union concessions to balance the budget. But it’s not clear unions are willing to give anywhere near that much.

Such a sacrifice would be understandably tough to swallow. But it’s hard for the city to make the case that it’s doing all it can — and still needs the state’s help to avoid insolvency — if unions don’t agree to do all they can.

Disturbing rhetoric from the president of the Hartford Police Union is casting doubt over the union’s willingness to cooperate. “If [Mr. Bronin] throws a number out there that’s not achievable, that’s on him. That’s not on us,” Richard Holton said last week. “We can’t strip our members of every benefit they have to appease the mayor.”

This problem isn’t the mayor, who was elected last year. It’s years of financial mismanagement in the city. As we’ve written before, the Hartford police union locked in remarkably generous pension and benefit deals in the salad days of the 1990s and 2000s. The city is struggling under those deals.

Mr. Bronin appears to be trying to solve the city’s budget problems responsibly. Unions can help by coming to the table with solutions. Good-faith negotiations are needed, not pointing the finger and ignoring fiscal realities.

The city’s unions showed that they can work together in a positive way when they — including the police union — announced recently that they would bargain for health care as one group. Mr. Bronin supported the idea, which Mr. Holton said could mean “substantial savings.”

If the city police union takes an intractable stance on concessions, it increases the chance of more pain down the road. The deficit is only expected to get bigger.

The city’s police department is staffed with many excellent officers and administrators who earn their salaries and benefits every day. Giving more back at this difficult time won’t tarnish their badges — it will only help the city they serve.