A festering dispute relating to a police officer’s pension resulted in disputes between the local Police Union and (some members of) the Police Commission (including our regular cartoonist Rick Stromoski), and the First Selectman’s Office. At this time, it appears that the dispute, while not fully resolved, has come to a head. And the resolution of the dispute may lead to greater clarity regarding the administration of the town’s pension.
The underlying dispute involved whether an employee absent from work due to workplace injury covered by workers compensation is entitled to receive pension credit for that time. Officer Jeff Reynolds was out of work from October 2008 until October 2010, following serious injuries suffered as a result of being struck by cars while making police stops. While the Union contract requires that the employee contribute 6% of monthly wages for time to be credited service under the pension plan, at no time did the town request payment for the period Reynolds received workers compensation. And following his return to work Reynolds received yearly statements indicating that the time missed had been credited to his years of service, for pension purposes. That changed in 2019 when he received notice that the time had not been credited. This was apparently due to a 2014 change, not announced to either the union or employees, to the effect that time missed due to workers compensation injuries (unlike absences due to other reasons, such as long term disability) was not to be counted as credited service under the pension plan. The union contract provides “[t]he Retirement Commission shall be responsible for Administration of the pension plan. Any Grievance or disputes with respect to the Administration of benefits for Police Participants shall be processed through the Grievance Procedure in the Police Collective Bargaining Agreement.” When officer Reynolds discovered that he was not receiving credit for the time out of service, a grievance was filed citing the alleged contract violations, and offering to pay the 6% not paid (or ever requested) in order to have his service credit restored for the period in dispute.
As per the union contract, the Police Commission held a second step grievance hearing at its September 25 meeting. After the union presented its position, things got “interesting” when the Chair read an email from the town’s labor counsel urging the Commission to defer action and pass the grievance onto the First Selectman because they did not have authority to alter or amend the pension plan. Deferring action, the note said, would allow the First Selectman to address the issue after consultation with pension counsel. Counsel also noted that there were numerous discrepancies and inconsistencies between the union contract, the pension documents and the pension ordinance. In fact, as it turns out, the town does not have a copy of its own pension plan. Nor does the union contract expressly indicate whether time out with a workplace injury should be credited for pension services. It is also unclear how the past practice of crediting such service came into existence or why it was changed without notice.
The notes of the second step meeting reflect that after discussion there was a motion to “accept the grievance as valid” which passed with three members voting yes, one abstaining, and two voting no (either because they believed they lacked authority to or because they didn’t support the merits of the claim.)
Citing her view that the Police Commission lacked authority to rule on the question, and her belief that there were errors in the handling of the grievance, the First Selectman refused to honor the Step 2 vote. The Union, responded by filing a prohibitive practice charge with the state, alleging a violation of law, and took the issue to the third step of the grievance process, the Selectman’s Office, under protest.
The First Selectman indicates that she informed the police union that personally she believed that worker’s compensation should count toward years of pension service, but because the Retirement Commission is authorized to interpret the pension ordinance and related documents and make decisions on the administration of the town’s pension plan, her office was providing information to them to make a recommendation on the grievance at its meeting on November 13. At the meeting it was recognized that the contracts and pension documents did not clearly define what should or should not be credited as service, and ultimately the Commission, by a six to nothing vote, recommended that the town (following payment of any money owed, a dollar figure to be negotiated by the town and union) credit Officer Reynold’s time on workers compensation for pension purposes.
While further details need to be agreed to before the grievance is finally resolved, the First Selectman supports a resolution granting pension credit, at least in this instance. She also expresses a desire to follow-up by addressing this question with all the pertinent unions, clarifying the matter and pension documents, so future handling is consistent and fair. She also hopes to have a full audit of the town’s pension practices, lessening the possibility of such issues occurring again.