Firefighters in New Haven, Conn., are attempting to cut ties with the state union after a dispute over representation and contributions.
Frank Ricci, a battalion chief and president of the New Haven Firefighters Union, Local 825 of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), said his membership wants to hold the state union accountable.
"This comes down to the basic question of fairness and holding the state union accountable," Ricci told the Washington Free Beacon in a phone interview. "We didn't feel that the representation was adequate."
Since 2006, New Haven firefighters have given $200,000 in payments to the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut (UPFFAC) to represent their legislative interests. Ricci said Local 825's association with the state branch is voluntary and the membership should have the freedom to exercise their judgment about paying dues. The local union leaders voted to disassociate with the state organization in January 2016. The state labor organization sent them into collections for more than $50,000, which Ricci said "was the last straw."
"Unfortunately we were forced to take this action, but I have to respect the interests of our members and our board," he said. "It really came down to them not representing our choices and interests."
The state association did not return request for comment.
Ricci is no stranger to the legal system. He sued the city for failing to honor the results of a promotion test because a disproportionate number of minority firefighters failed to pass. The case, Ricci v. DeStefano, went all the way to the Supreme Court, where justices ruled 5-4 that the city engaged in discrimination against the white and Hispanic firefighters who passed the exam. Ricci said that case, as well as the suit against the state union, are about representing the interests of local firefighters. He said the state union used the local's legislative fees to cover costs unrelated to legislative services and that ceasing the dues payments will "help bring our fiscal house in order." The suit claims that the state union used at least $96,000 from New Haven firefighters to conduct business outside the scope of legislative interests.
"Our decision was directly related to the lack of accountability and effectiveness [of the state]," he said. "We thought the cost was too high … we weren't getting the value for our money and there was a lack of leadership."
Ricci filed the suit with the assistance of the non-profit public interest law firm, The Fairness Center. The case will now go before the state superior court.