BIDDEFORD — Members of the unions representing the city’s police officers and public works employees will protest before the City Council meeting tonight, according to a press release issued Monday.

The unions protested before and during a July 7 council meeting, which was abruptly canceled because the large crowd violated the fire code in City Hall and refused to disperse. Tonight’s meeting has been moved to Biddeford High School, which can accommodate more people.

The city and the unions representing its police officers, firefighters and public works employees, whose contracts expired on June 30, are currently locked in a battle over new contract negotiations. While the city is seeking to reduce benefits for those employees, the unions that represent them say the proposed cuts ”“ which include the elimination of retiree health care and a reduction in sick days, among others ”“ are unfair and will ultimately hurt the community.

Union representatives have also argued that the city has no intention of making compromises to its proposal.

“The city has no intention of bargaining. They’ve made no effort,” Sgt. Phil Greenwood, the chief steward of the police union, is quoted saying in the press release. “The city wants it their way or no way and that is not negotiating in good faith.”

On the other hand, Michael Wing, the city’s negotiator, told the Journal Tribune earlier this month that the proposed cuts are simply a means of “establishing employee benefits that are in line with other state and area labor contracts.”

“The city is concerned about retiree health insurance, excess sick leave accumulation and other employee benefits that are in excess of industry standards,” Wing wrote in a July 6 email. “Maintaining these benefits at their present levels is an unfair burden which the taxpayers of Biddeford cannot afford.”

The unions, however, maintain Wing’s claims are exaggerated, according to the release, and employee benefits in Biddeford are in fact no better than in other cities.

In a post on Mayor Alan Casavant’s Facebook page on July 8, the public displayed a split opinion on the contract negotiations. For example, while one user wrote, “Trimming the fat and excess in certain areas (of the contracts) is called for,” another wrote, “Time for the mayor and city council to reduce costs elsewhere.”

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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