"Collective bargaining works.”
Those were the words of Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson and Jean Bouchard, president of Local 1651 of Council 94 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, as the City Council unanimously approved 3-year contracts for police, fire and municipal workers Monday.
The contracts freeze employee salary increases for the next three years and approximately doubles the sum workers contribute to health insurance premiums.
Mayor Scott Avedisian, who attended the hearing at City Hall, noted last week that pension actuaries estimate the police and fire plans will decrease Warwick’s $300 million unfunded pension liability by approximately $30 million.
Additionally, the agreement with municipal workers is anticipated to save nearly $2 million in terms of contractual savings over the next three years, Avedisian said.
They mayor praised negotiating teams from all three unions for their efforts, including Bouchard, Col. Stephen McCartney and Deputy Michael Babula of the WPD, Peter Johnston, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Chief Edmund Armstrong and Assistant Chief Bruce Cooley of the WFD, as well as WFD union leader Bill Lloyd.
“They all came together over the last several months for a series of negotiations about the contracts going forward [and] I think these agreements represent a fair arrangement between the city’s unionized employees and the taxpayers who receive their services,” Avedisian said. About 50 people were in the audience, mostly city workers.
The mayor continued, “Today, we’re constantly reading about conflicts, failures and missed opportunities that’s occurring in other communities throughout the state, but it is refreshing and very encouraging to show you that negotiation still remains a cost-effective method to avoid unnecessary and costly litigation.”
Vella-Wilkinson, Council President Bruce Place, Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono and Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis agreed. Travis thanked the employees for their dedication to the city of Warwick and their willingness to forego raises while facing the doubling of their co-pay fees in a poor economy.
“That says an awful lot about our workers,” she said. “They appreciate the fact that they have jobs. I want to thank the administration and all three unions for the work they put into this.”
Bouchard shared Travis’ sentiments. She, too, commended municipal employees for sacrifices they have made in order to make the agreement possible. She noted that many of them are struggling to make ends meet.
While they were not overly pleased with the agreement, she said, they understood the need. Despite economic times, Bouchard said they came through for the city and its taxpayers.
“I ask the council members and the city administration to recognize all the concessions given up by the municipal workers in this economy,” she said. “This is not the first time municipal workers have stepped to the plate for the city … but we hope it’s the last time, not just for us, for everyone. We want to see this economy turn around soon.”
Johnston feels the same. He feels all three unions are acting in the best interest of the city.
“It was a long process and it was a nasty process at a couple of times, but we worked through it,” he said. “It’s fair to the city and it’s fair to the union.”