Fixing Hartford's Budget Requires Union Help

Freshman Mayor Luke Bronin was blunt during his first State of the City Address as to what measures are needed to get the city on solid fiscal ground.

He discussed layoffs as if they're a certainty not an option. He talked about budget cuts that will hurt and potentially eliminate some city services, though he hasn't yet provided specifics.

The most politically treacherous idea the mayor laid out: reopening existing union contracts in order to save city taxpayers money.

"There must be significant changes in labor contracts even with those layoffs because there's no choice," Mayor Bronin said from City Council Chambers.

NBC Connecticut reached out to the half dozen unions that represent city employees that include education employees, firefighters, and city hall staff, but none responded to requests for comment.

New City Council President TJ Clarke says the possibility of reopening union negotiations is the first challenge of the new crop of city government officials.

“There’s a way to negotiate with the unions before we take that extreme step," he said.

The extreme step he describes is a state oversight board, that would thrust open the doors of contract renegotiation. Bronin floated the idea to state lawmakers who represent Hartford, and members of the City Council last week.

Clarke wants to work with unions and keep a dialogue open before trying to get the state involved. He says there are ways to minimize reductions in the city's workforce through contract talks on pensions and health benefits.

“It’s tough, meeting with everybody but I still have a hope that we can still come to some kind of agreement with every union that employs city workers before we even get to the point of layoffs," he said.

Rep. Angel Arce, (D - Hartford), who endorsed Bronin during the mayor race, was at the meeting last week when state oversight was discussed.

Arce says the political consequences of frustrating union leaders don't concern him right now.

"I’m a union person. I love my unions. I hope they can work together," Arce said.

He added that for the sake of the capital city, everyone has to step up.

“It’s not about the unions. It’s not about getting me elected. It’s about a city in crisis.”

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