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Westport OKs Contract With DPW Workers

WESTPORT, Conn. – Changes to Westport’s public works employee pension plans that took nearly three years to resolve were upheld by the Representative Town Meeting, the town’s legislative body, Tuesday night in a 23-5 vote.

Contract negotiations between the town and public works union employees began in 2009. Under an arbitration award handed down March 20, all new public works employees of union Local 1303-385 hired after the date of the award will join a town-defined contribution plan and not receive defined benefits. This means they will contribute 5 percent of their salary.

Also under the agreement, pension benefits will be capped at 65 percent, versus the current 81.25 percent. This change will result in a savings of about $1 million, Floyd Dugas, labor counsel for the town, told members of the RTM.

Dale Wehmhoff, a public works employee for 25 years and president of Local 1303-385, urged the RTM to reject the arbitration, saying the union did not get the representation it deserved.

The representative, Wehmhoff said, failed to submit the union’s last best offer to the arbitration panel. He asked the RTM to reject the settlement to allow the union to put in its last best offer and continue negotiations.

“All of a sudden, your pension is gone,” he said. “We’re not like other pensions in town that are frozen. We don’t get a cost of living, we do not have Social Security taken out. It’s just our pension.”

Helen Garten, vice chairman of the Board of Finance, urged the RTM to sustain the arbitration, saying Westport needs to take steps toward pension reform.

“We think this is extremely important for the taxpayers of this town,” Garten said. “We want to get control of the cost of benefits, because as I’ve said more times than I can remember, we can’t continue on this course. Unfortunately, the costs of benefits to this town have forced us to do a lot of things that haven’t been pleasant for anybody.”

Gil Nathan, a newly elect RTM member for District 9, agreed with Garten that the arbitration award should be upheld. He said the reason he joined the RTM was because of his concern over the town’s employee costs.

“They’re killing our town,” he said of pension, salary and health-care costs.

This is not the first step Westport has taken in pension reform. In January, the town's two nonunion pension boards voted to close nonunion supervisory and nonunion nonsupervisory pension plans to new hires. Instead, new hires after Jan. 1 will be transitioned into town-defined contribution plan.

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