After decade-long fight, Trumbull police officers in Connecticut win back pensions

HARTFORD, Conn. – Members of the Trumbull Police Union AFSCME Local 1745 (Council 4) accomplished a rare feat. After losing their defined benefit pension plan in 2014, they won their pensions back 10 years later.

Since the Great Recession, municipalities have been cutting pensions, especially for police officers. The town of Trumbull, in southwest Connecticut, was no exception. When members of Local 1745 started contract negotiations in 2011, the town had already begun its campaign to eliminate their pensions.

“Taking away pensions from municipal workers, especially cops and firefighters, was the political flavor of the day, not just in Trumbull but across the state and nationwide,” said Detective Sgt. Bobby Coppola, a 24-year Trumbull police officer who served as the local’s president from 2006 to 2022 and is currently the local’s treasurer.

The town offered several drastic proposals that eliminated pensions for new hires, while severely diluting existing pensions for others.  

“We tried to negotiate and come up with different ideas, but the town was adamant about it,” Coppola said. “Bottom line, after it was all said and done, it was a political decision to take away our pensions.”

The local tried to lessen the damage. Members settled in mediation to save current members from having highly reduced pensions and also secured raises and extra holiday pay; delayed implementation of the new 401(a) — a retirement savings plan for government employees — until the last year of the contract; and arranged for the town to hire more officers to ensure the Trumbull Police Department would be fully staffed.

But within a few years, the consequences of the town’s pension decisions hit.

According to Sgt. Brian Federowicz, Local 1745’s current president, 16 Trumbull officers resigned over the last four years to work with other departments that offered pensions. At one point, they were down 25 officers out of their 70-member bargaining unit due to resignations and various types of leave.

“It's frustrating when you're putting all this time and effort to train this person, to make them the best police officer, and then all of a sudden they resign and go somewhere else,” said Federowicz. “It starts to wear out the officers.”

The loss of seasoned officers took a toll on the entire department. Gradually, fewer qualified candidates applied, and more officers were ordered to work nonstop double shifts because of shortages.

But Local 1745 never gave up trying to restore their pensions.

The tide began to turn when new town leaders were elected. Local 1745 members worked with them and discovered that bringing back a defined benefit pension plan was not only feasible but affordable. At the end of 2023, the Trumbull Town Council voted unanimously to restore the police pension plan.

“If you want to retain … qualified people (in) public safety, the best thing to do is offer a pension because that’s the best security and retirement. Pensions attract the best-qualified candidates,” Coppola said.

Federowicz agreed. “If you put all these years into public service, you should be rewarded. A pension is … the appreciation from the town to thank you for your years of dedicated service.”