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Wednesday, March 21 News

Police union files complaint against the town

New Canaan Police Union Local 1575 has filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor accusing Police Chief Leon Krolikowski of illegally bypassing a union negotiating team in June, when he presented a contract proposal that would end the year-long negotiations.

The municipal prohibited practice complaint claims Krolikowski June 16 "directed a contract package proposal to the entire membership of the New Canaan Police Union, directly bypassing" the negotiating committee and the union's executive board. The proposal, according to the document, "had been previously discussed and rejected by the union negotiating committee."

"Krolikowski sent the proposal to the union membership in an attempt to undermine the union negotiating committee and directly deal with the union membership," the complaint states.

Such actions constituted "direct dealing" in violation of the Municipal Employee Relations Act and "have undermined the union negotiating committee's ability to bargain in good faith with the town," according to the document, which was signed by Eric Brown, an attorney with Council 15 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

New Canaan's unionized police officers have been working without a contract for a year as negotiations with the town have proven unsuccessful. Brown said a new contract is under "interest arbitration," which means a labor department panel was assigned to mediate discussions.

In a prepared statement, Krolikowski said the complaint "is baseless, frivolous, has no merit and does not constitute direct dealing."

"Frankly, some elementary legal research shows that what I did, which was simply communicating an offer, does not constitute direct dealing," he said in the statement. "It was not coercive, threatening or intending to undermine or denigrate the union."

According to section 7-470 of the Municipal Employee Relations Act, employers "are prohibited from interfering, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise" of their rights or "dominating or interfering with the formation, existence or administration of any employee organization." In other words, the union is claiming the chief's actions undermined its authority to bargain, which Krolikowski has denied.

"The chief went directly to the union membership about a proposal instead of going to the negotiating team," Brown said. "If we can prove that, which I think we can, that's illegal under state law."

Krolikowski said he "felt obligated" to help given the ongoing negotiation and a request by the union president, Sgt. John Milligan, to do so.

"Employers are not forbidden from directly communicating with their unionized employees," Krolikowski said in his statement. "My communication was merely informational and was passing along an offer from the first selectman, whom is the only one that can bind the town and makes all contractual decisions for the town."

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First Selectman Robert Mallozzi declined to comment and Milligan did not return multiple calls.

With two new hires being finalized this month, the department will have 44 unionized officers in the force. Krolikowski, Capt. Vincent Demaio and Capt. John DiFederico are not part of the union.

The chief called the complaint "misleading," saying he sent the proposal to everyone in the department, including the negotiating committee and executive board. "Everybody in the department got it."

He also said his proposal was different than a previous one that had been discussed and rejected because it had increased wages.

Neither Brown or Krolikowski would discuss specific items each has requested or rejected.

"The union wants a fair contract," Brown said. "That's all our members have ever asked for -- a fair contract for the work they do. And we don't think that that is what's being offered."

The unionized police officers have been working under the conditions of the most recent contract, which covered 2010 to 2013. That agreement was settled in March 2012, after nearly two years of negotiations. Brown said such a time frame is fairly common in Connecticut.

"I think that the town has been firm in its position and we've been firm in our position," Brown said.

The chief said the last time a decision was made through an arbitration process was about 30 years ago.

The police contract negotiations began more than a year ago, during Police Chief Ed Nadriczny's administration.

Police Commission Chairman Stuart Sawabini declined to comment on the negotiations. He said the discussions are between the union and first selectman's office.

"We're obviously extremely supportive of our uniformed officers," he said, "but the commission attempts to remain relatively neutral."

The union is asking the town to cease and desist direct dealing, pay for all costs associated with the current interest arbitration proceeding between the union and the town from June 16 forward and award the union's last best offer on issues raised by the town in its "direct dealing document," according to the complaint.

Brown said the labor department soon would conduct an informal hearing with both parties to discuss the complaint, at which point the town and union may settle their differences or face a formal hearing.

He said the union and the town have met about 10 times since the negotiations began last year and he expects a deal to be reached in the winter.

Krolikowsi, who noted that his role is intermediary, said the department is not close to reaching an agreement.

"It's unfortunate. Both sides just can't agree to the terms that both have offered," he said. "Unfortunately, we're in arbitration but I'm confident the arbitration process is fair."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

Nelson Oliveira|Education/general assignment reporter