It appears the courts will have the final say as to whether firefighters hired on or after July 1, 2012, are members of the city’s Tier II pension plan, as are city municipal employees and police hired of that date, or whether they are members of the more lucrative pension plan of their veteran co-workers.
It has been estimated including 44 firefighters in the richer of the two pension plans could cost taxpayers an additional $2.6 million.
In June, the city filed suit in Superior Court contesting an arbitration ruling in favor of Warwick Firefighters Local 2748. The ruling found that in spite of an ordinance establishing the Tier II plan – which was approved by the City Council in May 2011 – the plan was not included in the firefighters’ collective bargaining agreement and is therefore inapplicable.
In its appeal of the arbitration award made in March, the city argues firefighters failed of follow the deadline to grieve implementation of Tier II and that the “arbitrators’ award was irrational, in excess of their authority, and rendered in manifest disregard of the contract, applicable law and public policy.”
Further, Robinson & Robinson attorneys representing the city questioned the arbitrator’s finding that the grievance was “procedurally arbitrable notwithstanding the Union’s failure to proceed to arbitration in timely fashion.” Additionally, the city argues the award is unlawful because “the arbitrators encroached upon the non-delegable statutory authority of the City Council to enact and implement legislation governing the pension system.”
On the matter of timing and failing to timely file a grievance, an issued raised in arbitration, the arbitrators – with Michael Ryan acting as the neutral arbitrator – ruled it was “acceptable” that then union president William Lloyd waited until the city implemented Tier II and its reduced level of employee contribution to file a grievance. The arbitrators also disagreed with the city that retired Chief Edmund Armstrong had the authority to “stay the proceeding of the grievance until further notice while the parties negotiate a possible resolution.”
Under the Tier II pension, firefighters would be required to work an additional five years – 25 years in total – to earn their pension and reduce the compensation rate by 3-4 percent of their pay so as to make a more sustainable system. The 2012-2015 collective bargaining agreement assumed the Tier II pension applied, as that had been set by ordinance. But then as the city implemented the pension reforms in 2014, the union grieved.
At the time of the arbitration ruling, Mayor Joseph Solomon said, “It means that Scott Avedisian and his administration dropped the ball on what was good, effective pension reform for the city and its taxpayers. During the negotiations for the 2012 through 2015 and the 2015 through 2018 contracts, the union and Mayor Avedisian did not include the Tier II pension language in the contract.”
Asked last Wednesday about the status of talks with the firefighters, Solomon said, “I haven’t inked anything, no. I guess discussions and arbitration is still going on with the Avedisian arbitration [for the contract that expired June 30, 2018], the interest arbitration for the Avedisian administration. We’ve commenced our arbitration [for a contract starting July 1, 2019] with the Solomon administration. The parameters are different between the two because the prior administration suggested a raise but I can’t go into it.”