The city and the Warwick firefighters have reached a tentative agreement that promises to save in excess of $2 million, according to Mayor Joseph Solomon’s estimate, as well as clear away a number of grievance and arbitration cases that could have dragged on at a cost to both the city and the union.
The two-year agreement retroactive to June 30, 2018 – at which time the last contract expired – offers no pay raises for either of the years and would implement the Tier II pension reform and resolve sick and vacation time payments.
“So, for the duration of this two-year contract it would be zero, zero. Which, converted to dollars is a significant amount of savings – multi-million-dollar savings – that really the city of Warwick desperately is in need of at this point and time,” Solomon said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
The tentative agreement, which must be ratified by the rank-and-file and the City Council, spans from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2020.
What might the agreement mean to the taxpayer?
“I can tell you this, most arbitrations today look to other communities and other bargaining groups within the same community and would at least, at a minimal, try to duplicate any salary increase. Taking that philosophy into account, that would be a minimum of 2.75 [percent] per year in each of the coming two years. If you take that 2.75 [percent] and the costs associated with receiving that decision, we would be exceeding over $2 million-plus in savings by reaching this potential agreement,” Solomon said.
According to a release issued by the mayor’s office, the contract language addresses several issues relative to the calculation of the payout of unused sick time, vacation time and pension reform.
A “side agreement” regarding sick time payouts, entered into by former union president William Lloyd and former fire chief Edmund Armstrong, took effect in 2013 without council approval. This changed how accrued sick time payments were made. This language within the side agreement was subsequently not included in the most current contract, which spanned from July 2015 to June 2018 under the Avedisian administration. The practice was rescinded immediately after the agreement was brought to Solomon’s attention, and the union subsequently filed a grievance.
The tentative agreement rescinds, effective July 1, 2019, the payment method established by the “side agreement.”
A second issue related to the payout of unused vacation time is also resolved in the tentative agreement, Solomon said. When ratifying terms of the 2015-18 contract, the City Council was presented with language that set the payment for “banked” vacation days at one-fifth of the employee’s weekly pay; however, language that made its way into the final collective bargaining agreement set that rate at one-fourth. The new agreement restores the one-fifth calculation.
The third issue that the tentative agreement would resolve relates to pension reform. In 2011, the City Council passed legislation that would have affected firefighters hired on or after July 1, 2012. They would have been placed in a “Tier II” pension group. This group would have to work five more years to earn a 50-percent pension, with a pension percentage reduced by 3 to 4 percent. It also capped disability pensions and reduced the maximum pension benefit.
However, during negotiations for the 2012-15 and 2015-18 contracts, under the prior administration, that language was not included in the collective bargaining agreements. When the city began implementing the Tier II system in 2014, the union filed a grievance. In March, a panel of arbitrators ruled in favor of the union and ordered the city to make those affected whole.
The proposed agreement includes Tier II pension terms for all employees hired on or after July 1, 2018.
What of concessions by the city?
“If you want to call eliminating other arbitration grievances that don’t have to be dealt with, then yeah, I guess there was a concession. That, again, is an additional savings and clarification of issues that were never clarified in the past,” Solomon said.
Michael Carreiro, president of Warwick Firefighters IAFF Local 2748, could not be reached for comment.
“These are all issues that I inherited, and I cleared it up with this potential agreement. And I think this is a good thing for the city and I hope that the rank-and-file support it. I know the executive board supports it, and that makes me very pleased … This is a step in the right direction for the city of Warwick to clean up housekeeping from prior years,” Solomon said.