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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

RTM OKs Arbitration Award that Trims Employee Benefits

After years of effort, the Town of Westport tonight succeeded in gaining approval to trim employee retirement benefits that a town negotiator said could eventually result in $1.3 million or more in annual savings.

By a vote of 30 to 0 with one abstention, Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) voted not to reject an arbitration award involving a pension plan for 13 different municipal and Board of Education unions — not including certified teachers and administrators.

The police and fire unions have had separate pension negotiations, and a fire arbitration decision is expected soon, according to town officials.

The RTM vote culminated an effort dating back at least six years to reduce employee retirement benefits to bring them more in line with the private sector, said Floyd J. Dugas, labor counsel for the town.

“I don’t think it is an understatement to say the town did extremely well in this arbitration decision,” Dugas said. He said a rejection would merely send the contract back to another arbitration panel, which “80 to 85 percent of the time rubber stamps the first panel.”

The contract negotiations, which Dugas described as a “long and tedious process,” went to arbitration because he said, “Frankly, the unions as a coalition, refused to bargain over any changes for active employees.”

Dugas stressed that the new contract, retroactive from June 30, 2014 through June 30, 2020, was in the town’s best financial interest on a number of key points.

They include: defined contributions, not defined benefits; annual town savings of $700,000 to $1.3 million or more over the contract’s length; a decrease of maximum pensions from 69 to 66 percent of the highest salary; new hires will not be eligible for medical insurance on retirement, and employee contributions to the pension plan will go from 4 percent to eventually reaching 6 percent.

The town also scored a retirement age concession in the package. Currently, employees can retire after 25 years of service, regardless of their age. The new provision is that the employee has to reach 55 years old and have 25 years of service.

“So, it will push out the pensions,” Dugas said. “I believe we did as well as we could.”

Under state law, a municipality cannot vote to approve an arbitration award, but only either to reject it or not.

— James Lomuscio

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Posted 08/01/17 at 09:36 PM  Permalink



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