HARTFORD, CT—The decision by the University of Connecticut Health Center to shutter its fire department in June may have broader implications for the state than just the closure of a 16-member fire department.
Glenn Terlecki, president of the Connecticut Police and Fire Union, said Thursday that Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes told State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition leadership that there will be no layoffs, as long as labor stays at the table and continues talking.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget is built upon $1.56 billion in labor savings over the next two years.
That means Malloy needs state employees to consider opening the health and pension part of their contract. That part of the contract doesn’t expire until 2022 and a vote of union leadership would be necessary to reopen the contract and begin those talks.
Terlecki is one of those 15 voting members and he said if they get to the point of a formal vote on entering negotiations then at the moment he’s voting against it.
“I would be strong no vote if they continue on this path,” Terlecki said.
Terlecki pointed out that the governor’s budget seeks to close the fire department at the Southbury Training School too.
He said Thursday’s layoff announcement is a sign that the administration is “negotiating in bad faith.”
“We respect the confidentiality of negotiations and as such we are not at liberty to discuss details of what the conversations are at the table,” Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for Malloy, said Thursday.
It’s unclear if the no layoff promise that Terlecki said was made by Barnes was conveyed to officials at the UConn Health Center, which is operating with a $15.9 million deficit in the current year.
UConn Health CEO Dr. Andrew Agwunobi cited fiscal pressure as the reason for the announcement. He said it was not an easy decision, but “UConn Health has to make such hard choices to protect its core mission of research, teaching and patient care while dealing with the reality of financial pressures.”
The announcement means 16 firefighters will be losing their jobs. There are currently four unfilled positions and UConn said it will retain between four to six of them for fire alarm testing and other duties not related to “life safety.”
The responsibility for fire fighting services will be taken over by the Town of Farmington.
“The town of Farmington fire department is committed to providing the same high level of service to UConn Health that it does throughout the rest of the town,” Farmington Town Manager Kathleen Eagen said in a statement. “The proposed model developed by UConn Health will retain personnel on the campus to handle non-emergency activities. Our fire department will work collaboratively with UConn Health to assure that this change does not put an undue burden on the town of Farmington’s fire department.”
She said that the health center’s decision to retain a handful of personnel is “nonnegotiable and a necessary component to ensure that this change does not put an undue burden on the Town of Farmington’s Fire Department. ”
But Terlecki pointed out that a 2013 study commissioned by the UConn Health Center found transferring services to the town would not be feasible.
“The fire services that serve the Town of Farmington are primarily volunteer,” Firescope Mid-America wrote in its report. “That fact alone limits the time and resources that they fire service personnel have available to devote to basic and specialty training, including familiarization with the massive facilities on the UCHC campus. Without substantial increase in career personnel on the part of the fire services in Farmington, these fire service entities will not be able to provide adequate coverage for the campus in a timely manner.”
Terlecki said nothing has changed since that time to change the conclusions reached in that study.