Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon mayor orders layoffs in parks, public works as negotiations stall

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 1:07 PM EDT

VERNON — Trash may soon start piling up around homes and parks after Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy sent layoff notices to all employees in the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments when contract negotiations with the union stalled.

“This is unfortunately a case of a mayor behaving in a petulant fashion,” American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees spokesman Larry Dorman said today. “Our hope is to reach a mutual agreement that’s fair to the workers, fair to the taxpayers, and we’re not going to lose sight of that goal; but clearly what the mayor’s doing is retaliatory and punitive and we believe illegal.”

Council 4 Local 1471 represents the town’s public works, parks, and Water Pollution Control Authority employees, but WPCA employees are not affected by the layoffs.

Trash and recycling collection, leaf pickup, police cruiser repair, and parks maintenance all could be delayed in the coming weeks if the two sides can’t reach an agreement.

All 36 of the town’s public works employees and the six full-time members of the parks and recreation staff received layoff notices Monday, according to an email sent by Assistant Town Administrator and Human Resources Supervisor Peter Graczykowski.

Because the move requires a 14-day notification, layoffs are scheduled to start August 31.

McCoy blamed the delays and resulting layoffs on the union, saying that it refused to ratify a temporary agreement or set an arbitration date despite a signed agreement that the contract would be settled by March.

“As a result of this, the union’s unrealistic actions, we are underfunded in those three departments. Tomorrow steps will be taken to avoid any personal liability for a budgetary shortfall,” McCoy said in an email sent out Monday night.

The temporary agreement included a 2.5 percent wage increase and a 10 percent employee contribution toward their health insurance, McCoy said in the email. He also claimed that the union members are paid 12 percent more than workers in the same fields in the Hartford area but did not cite any source for that figure or return calls seeking comment.

Others who did not return phone calls include Town Attorney Harold Cummings, Graczykowski, Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans, and Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Dinnie.

“Today we will file a municipal prohibited practice complaint against McCoy and the town for issuing these layoffs because they were intended to coerce and intimidate our members in violation of municipal labor law,” Dorman said. He added that the union also was seeking an emergency injunction to stop the layoffs from happening.

The union has been willing to talk and “there is no need for this,” Dorman said. “It’s clearly punitive. It’s going to have a dire impact on town services that the citizens of Vernon rely on. We’re going to try to prevent this from happening and get the administration to try to behave rationally.”

McCoy is not seeking re-election in November, but has said he plans to explore running for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Unaffiliated Town Council member and petitioning mayoral candidate James Krupienski said today that he is “deeply disturbed” McCoy would take such action without informing the council and had tried to carefully review departments’ budgets “to avoid this type of situation” but was shut down by majority Republicans.

The town administration instructed department heads to tell the council their budgets were adequately funded “when this was obviously not the case,” he added.

Council member and Democratic mayoral candidate Pauline Schaefer said the issue would likely be discussed at the council’s meeting tonight, but McCoy has kept everyone in the dark.

“We’ve gotten nothing from the mayor on it at all, we have not been kept updated on it,” Schaefer said, adding she feels “confident that both sides will come to an agreement … I know people depend on these services and I think it’s a safety and health issue.”

Republican Board of Education member and mayoral candidate George Apel said he wanted to weigh in, but “it’s very hard to comment when you don’t know the status of the negotiations.”

Registered Republican and petitioning mayoral candidate Gordon Paterson expressed shock, saying, “I’m speechless, I honestly don’t know what to say … what I’m hearing is not making any sense to me, it’s that simple.”

Paterson said he was confused as to why the mayor would issue layoffs without consulting the council because, “it’s a major policy decision.”

While McCoy has argued that the union should accept the concessions in the contract he’s offering because “we had budgeted for those amounts,” Krupienski said McCoy has spared no expense in other, less-vital areas.

“How can I explain to an employee trying to provide for his family that I don’t have the money to pay him but we are funding a $50,000-a-year intern for the mayor or a $30,000 lobbyist? In this economy it is inexcusable,” Krupienski said.

McCoy has a personal assistant, Christopher Bandecchi, who earns $26.78 per hour, or $937.30 per week.

McCoy has also given substantial raises to several top-paid employees, including Kleinhans, who has received a 3.51 percent pay increase in his role as public works director, and makes $30,000 as director of school maintenance, for a combined annual salary of $125,358.

Kleinhans is in a managers’ union, but other non-union employees have received even higher raises, such as Town Administrator John D. Ward, who received an 8.33 percent increase and now makes $97,500. Graczykowski also received a 3.45 percent pay increase and earns $85,501.

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