FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Fairfield’s taxpayers will have to pay school nurses higher salaries soon, but should save money on benefit costs in the future after the Fairfield Public Nurses’ union reached a contract settlement with the town last month.
“This is another bargaining unit agreement that really shows that employees are willing to work with the town, recognizing the difficult economy we’re in,” said First Selectman Michael Tetreau.
The Fairfield Public Nurses’ union covers 33 employees who work in Fairfield Public Schools and at its private schools as well. Their contract expired in July 2010, along with many other town employee union deals.
The settlement gives the nurses a 4 percent raise immediately and another 2.25 percent pay raise on July 1, 2013. But the town will not have to pay retroactive raises for the two years spent renegotiating the contract.
The Board of Selectmen heard an update on the new contract Wednesday afternoon. The Representative Town Meeting still needs to vote on the deal before it goes into effect. The RTM meets next on Sept. 24.
As part of the agreement, the union’s new employees will retire on a defined-contribution 401(a) plan instead of a traditional pension plan. The deal also cuts the number of paid time off allowed for each employee, and eliminates Columbus Day as a paid holiday. Co-pays and employee-paid premiums for family plans will also rise for nurses using the town health insurance plan.
“In the town of Fairfield, family coverage costs about $30,000 per year,” said Patrick McHale, a labor attorney hired by the town. “So that’s a significant increase that they’ve agreed to.”
The higher salaries are expected to cost taxpayers an extra $58,771 this fiscal year and $47,594 from July 2013 to June 2014. But McHale expects that to be more than offset by the savings in sick and holiday time, healthcare and retirement costs.
For example, nurses at the highest seniority level will not only get 20 days of paid time off each year, down from 30 days. And, based on calculations from financial analysts, the switch to a defined-contribution plan will cut the town’s pension costs by about 4 percent each year.
The contract also makes a change in how the town is allowed to staff nurses at its schools. Part of the new deal lets the town hire and staff nurses based on education, skills and background rather than strictly on seniority. Longer-tenured nurses will still get some preference, but only when their education and background is equal to other candidates.
“To have to go strictly by seniority in that environment isn’t business-friendly or appropriate,” McHale said.