New London — The City Council approved a new agreement with the firefighters' union Wednesday that will prevent layoffs and cap the city's contribution to the firefighters' new state retirement plan.
The council met in a 20-minute executive session Thursday with representatives from the mayor's and the law director's offices. In the public session that followed, four councilors, including Adam Sprecace, who twice voted against the previous proposed contract, voted for the new contract.
Sprecace stated his support for the 18.5 percent cap on the city's contribution to the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System. The current rate is 15.3 percent but the rate has increased in recent years and is set by the state.
"It wasn't exactly what I was looking for," Sprecace said after the vote. "I wanted the number we have now. It's been a difficult several weeks, I'm sure mostly for all the firefighters who have endured this process, and I thank you for your perseverance, and I'm happy to be able to support this because it does provide the city with protection against possible cost increases."
Joining Sprecace in supporting the agreement were councilors Anthony Nolan, Donald Macrino and the Rev. Wade Hyslop.
Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran and John Maynard voted against the proposal and did not comment during discussion. Council President Michael Passero, a city firefighter, did not attend the meeting but had recused himself from previous discussion and votes on the firefighters' contract because he is a New London firefighter.
The agreement, signed Monday and negotiated by members of the union and Jane Glover, the city's chief administrative officer, mostly mirrors the previous draft but for the cap on the city's pension contribution. If the percentage increases to or above 18.5 percent, the sides would negotiate how to share the increase, union President Rocco Basilica said.
The union approved the new agreement prior to the council vote.
"The intent is, if the money goes above, we would do our fair share to offset the cost," Basilica said. "It may never happen."
After the council meeting adjourned, a visibly relieved Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio addressed the media.
"All layoffs pending in the New London Fire Department are hereby immediately rescinded," he said. "God bless our fire department and all those who serve within it."
"It's been a long battle," Basilica added. "The guys do a great job. They're educated, they're hard workers and all they've done is done their job through all this and I'm very proud of them. It's very emotional right now, but we're fortunate we're here today."
The approval ends nearly three months of back-and-forth between the union, the mayor's office and the City Council, which until Thursday could not come to a consensus on a contract that simultaneously saved the city money and the firefighters' jobs.
The original agreement twice failed in 3-3 ties and on July 16 was tabled by the council. That prompted Finizio to declare layoffs effective the next day, but the union filed for a court injunction with a hearing scheduled for Monday, the same date as the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting.
Basilica said after Thursday's vote that he would withdraw the injunction request as soon as possible.
The new agreement calls for about $1 million in union concessions this year. The union will give up nine positions and two raises that were scheduled for 2012 and reduce mandatory staffing levels from 18 to 16.
Basilica said the department had 16 members per shift from 2004 to 2011, with a mandatory minimum of 18 only since last July.
In return, the city will not lay off any firefighters during the remainder of Finizio's four-year term and will bond around $4 million to offset the $14 million the firefighters will need to buy into the state retirement plan.
The fire department also agrees to support the city in the budget process and in the budget referendum, which is scheduled for a vote Sept. 18.
"I hope everyone can breathe a great sigh of relief and that everyone on the fire department can get back to work," Finizio said.