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New Canaan cops protest at train station

Updated 5:40 pm, Thursday, September 4, 2014

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  • Police officer George Caponera hands out a flier to a commuter at the New Canaan train station early Thursday morning, Sept. 4, 2014. Caponera is a member of New Canaan Police Union Local 1575, which was at the station seeking support from residents as a contract dispute with the Town of New Canaan, Conn., continues into a second year. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    Police officer George Caponera hands out a flier to a commuter at the New Canaan train station early Thursday morning, Sept. 4, 2014. Caponera is a member of New Canaan Police Union Local 1575, which was at the station seeking support from residents as a contract dispute with the Town of New Canaan, Conn., continues into a second year. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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About a dozen unionized police officers gathered at the New Canaan train station Thursday morning for an informal protest regarding their year-long contract negotiations with the town.

"We've been working without a contract for a little over a year now," Sgt. Carol Ogrinc said. "We're looking for a fair contract and the town is offering a 0 percent raise while the first selectman gave himself a 2 percent pay raise."

Ogrinc is one of 44 unionized officers who have been working under the conditions of their most recent contract, which covered July 2010 to June 2013, as attempts to settle a new agreement have been unsuccessful. A new contract is currently under arbitration through the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration. Union officials said the town has refused to offer a raise for the first year of the new contract and is proposing a 1 percent increase for the second year.

Besides Ogrinc, other officers present at the train station as early as 5:15 a.m. Thursday included Sgt. Peter Condos, school resource officers Jeff Deak and Jason Kim, and Sgt. John Milligan, president of New Canaan Police Union Local 1575. The group handed out fliers to commuters and asked them for support by calling First Selectman Robert Mallozzi's office.

Mallozzi said he does not comment on labor issues. Police Chief Leon Krolikowski did not immediately return a call for comment.

Milligan said the state Board of Labor Relations offered Aug. 22 to mediate the contract, which he said would save both the town and the union thousands of dollars, but "the town said they were not interested."

"The town has accused us of running up the town's tab, but at the end of the day, the state is offering to mediate the contract for free," he said. "They're accusing us of running up the tab but they're not willing to sit down and talk."

Ogrinc, a 26-year veteran of the department, said this is the longest the police force has gone without a contract, even though it is not uncommon in other towns.

"We all have families, kids, and we just want something fair for the job we do," she said.

According to the 2010-2013 agreement, the annual salary for a patrol officer ranges between $56,358 and $78,690. Sergeants receive between $84,240 and $89,788 while lieutenants make between $94,064 and $98,338. The numbers do not include overtime pay. Lt. William Ferri, for instance, was the second highest-paid town employee in 2013 with a $200,143 salary, according to a February report by the Human Resources Department.

As the arbitration process continues, a number of grievances have been filed with the state Department of Labor. The town filed a complaint Aug. 18 claiming the union's "numerous frivolous" complaints over the past months have exhausted taxpayers' money. It is not clear how many of those have been filed this year, but union officials have said they'd file grievances every time the town violates a contract.

According to Finance Director Dawn Norton, the town has spent $37,233 in legal fees since May 1 to address the union's complaints.

Milligan, who's been working with the department for about 14 years, said he's been told "the town does not have the ability to pay," a claim he disputes. He also said the force has had support from many residents who say it does "a great job."

"But at the end of the day, I don't know if (town officials) know that we do a great job," Milligan said. "Every guy here cares about this community. We want this town to be great and safe."

Milligan noted that the New Canaan's public safety would "never be jeopardized" because of the negotiations.

"We're fighting for our families and the food we put on the table for our children," Milligan said. "Unfortunately, everything is getting more expensive."

Krolikowski, Capt. Vincent Demaio and Capt. John DiFederico are not part of the union.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson