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Town accuses police union of filing 'frivolous' complaints

Updated 11:51 am, Sunday, August 24, 2014
  • The town of New Canaan has filed a prohibited practice complaint against New Canaan Police Union Local 1575 alleging the union has harassed and pressured the town through numerous "frivolous" complaints with the state Department of Labor. Photo: File Photo / New Canaan News
    The town of New Canaan has filed a prohibited practice complaint against New Canaan Police Union Local 1575 alleging the union has harassed and pressured the town through numerous "frivolous" complaints with the state Department of Labor. Photo: File Photo

 

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The year-long contract negotiations between the Town of New Canaan and the police union have reached another impasse after the town filed a prohibited practice complaint with the state Department of Labor claiming the union's "numerous frivolous" complaints have exhausted taxpayers' money.

The complaint, which was signed by First Selectman Robert Mallozzi Aug. 18, states that New Canaan Police Union Local 1575 "has, and continues to, file numerous grievances and prohibited practice complaints -- the frequency and subject matter of which are highly suspect -- in order to exert pressure upon the (town) to capitulate to its proposals in violation" of the municipal Employee Relations Act.

The complaint also claims that "given the voluminous number of the grievances and municipal complaints, the Union is willfully acting in bad faith; is disregarding its statutory obligation to bargain with the employer; and is using the contractual grievance and statutory municipal complaint process in order to harass the employer and induce capitulation."

It is not clear how many complaints the union has filed against the town in recent months, but the most recent one accused Police Chief Leon Krolikowski of illegally bypassing a union negotiating team in June, when he presented a contract proposal to the entire membership of the New Canaan Police Department. The chief denies any wrongdoing.

Eric Brown, an attorney with Council 15 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said there's another pending complaint, which is related to the elimination of a lieutenant position and that a number of other complaints were settled in June.

"We file grievances every time a town violates a contract," Brown said. "Any time we file a grievance is because the town has done something that breached the contract. If we're filing more grievances, which I don't think we are, it means there's something wrong.

"It makes my job easier if I don't have to file grievances. I'd rather not," he continued. "I think that's just pure fantasy on the part of the chief and the first selectman."

Krolikowski did not want to comment on the town's complaint Friday, but he said the accusations are "accurate." Mallozzi also declined to comment.

In the complaint, the first selectman wrote that, as a result of multiple complaints filed by the union, "the negotiations between the parties are, and continue to be, conducted in bad faith as the respondent's actions have infected and contaminated the sterile conditions necessary for mutual and amicable negotiations pursuant to the Act."

New Canaan's unionized police officers have been working without a contract for 13 months as negotiations with the town have proven unsuccessful. A new contract is under "interest arbitration," which means a labor department panel was assigned to mediate discussions.

The Aug. 18 complaint further states that Union President Sgt. John Milligan told town officials that "should the contract not settle, that things would get `nasty.'"

Milligan denied making such comment. "I did not make that comment nor would I make a comment like that," he said. "It's not in my character to say that."

Brown said the environment is what "has gotten a little nasty in New Canaan."

"I don't think there's a lot of interest on the other side in trying to help," he continued. "We think the police officers are entitled to a fair wage increase just like other police officers in the state."

Although he would not elaborate on the details of the negotiation, Brown said the town is refusing to give the unionized officers a raise for the first year of the new contract and is proposing a 1 percent increase for another year. He noted that Bridgeport officers recently received a 2.5 percent raise for three years and a pension plan, both of which he said the town is refusing to offer.

"If the city of Bridgeport has the ability to pay, certainly the town of New Canaan has the ability to pay," he said.

With two recent new hires, the department has 44 unionized officers in the force. Krolikowski, Capt. Vincent Demaio and Capt. John DiFederico are not part of the union.

The unionized police officers have been working under the conditions of the most recent contract, which covered 2010 to 2013. That agreement was settled in March 2012, after nearly two years of negotiations. Brown said such a time frame is fairly common in Connecticut.

Mallozzi wrote in the complaint that there's "overwhelming evidence and case law" to prove the chief's actions were legal. He also said the town has repeatedly engaged the union to settle or withdraw that complaint based on Connecticut Case law, Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations precedent and pursuant to the town's "continuing obligation to negotiation and bargain toward the settlement of grievances."

However, Mallozzi added, "despite these good faith attempts, the respondent has refused to engage for the purpose of bargaining with the (town), thereby forcing (it) to continue to expend public funds in order to defend this frivolous charge before the SBLR."

"This continued harassment of the employer through the grievance and municipal complaint process has forced the (town) to exhaust considerable monies, time and other public resources in order to address the patently frivolous and indefensible claims," the complaint states. "Further, given the deluge of grievances and complaints in the past three months, the (town) has retained outside counsel to assist in the handling of many of the grievance and municipal complaints thereby spending more public money in order to reasonably compensate outside counsel."

Regarding the legal costs, Brown said it's partly because the town's attorney, Ira Bloom, is "very qualified and experienced" and "wouldn't come cheap."

"It seems to me that the town has made a decision that they're willing to pay an attorney to fight with the police officers instead of coming to an agreement with the union on a fair contract," Brown said.

Human Resources Director Cheryl Jones did not immediately return a request for comment.

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