March 06–NEW HAVEN — The city firefighters’ union, Local 825, filed a four-count lawsuit alleging a breach of fiduciary duty against the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut, a union which represents the state’s fire departments.
“Have you ever had anyone demand money from you? It happens all the time: spam emails, unsolicited phone calls and junk mail,” said Frank Ricci, a battalion chief and president of Local 825. “These scammers intimidate and harass to get their hands on your hard-earned money without doing the hard work of actually earning it. Today, it’s time to add another scammer to that list: the leaders of the Connecticut state firefighters’ union, the Uniformed Professional Fire Firefighters Association.”
In the lawsuit, filed in Superior Court Monday, the New Haven union, which is affiliated with the International Association of Fire Fighters, said its executive board voted to end its “legislative only” membership with UPFFA on Jan. 4, 2016.
“Why did we leave? Simple, a lack of clear leadership, a lack of representation at the Capitol and the cost was just far too high,” Ricci said.
Local 825 only believed it was paying to educate state lawmakers on issues important to firefighters, Ricci said, but after cutting ties with the state union, they learned UPFFA was allegedly misusing their funds.
Their legislative dues, which were supposed to be earmarked for legislative purposes, were instead funding general union expenses, according to Ricci, including the alleged “lavish” travel of UPFFA President Peter Carozza. He said Carozza told him Local 825’s membership dues were being used to fund collective bargaining grievances of other unions.
Messages left for UPFFA and Carozza were not immediately returned.
Despite Local 825’s decision to end its membership, Ricci said UPFFA refused to honor the decision and continued billing Local 825 monthly for membership dues. “This is union abuse at the highest level,” he said.
Craig Fishbein, the attorney representing Local 825, said this case is about choice, and Local 825 already has chosen to disassociate with itsstate union. He believes UPFFA should honor that choice.
Ricci said instead of respecting the choice, UPFFA hired a Delaware-based collections company in December 2017 to collect back dues from January 2016 to present day, a time period during which Local 825 said it had terminated its relationship with the state union. Ricci said the collection agency harassed the firefighters and their families into paying, adding that his 71-year-old mother was called and led to believe he was being arrested.
The lawsuit alleges UPFFA is seeking “approximately $52,816.96 in back dues.” Local 825 is seeking restitution for breach of fiduciary duty, the return of at least $96,000 in dues or both.
While Ricci said he is “disheartened that the state union bureaucrats are trying to pick the pockets of New Haven firefighters,” all Connecticut firefighters should be concerned with accountability and leaders fulfilling their fiduciary duty.
“Firefighters place the public safety above their own every day. Be it mitigating a hazard material incident, a motor vehicle accident, a medical emergency or fighting a fire, there is not a day in this state that firefighters don’t go beyond the call of duty. We shouldn’t also have to fight state union bureaucrats,” he said.
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