Firefighters grieve 2011 pension law

Posted

By JOHN HOWELL

The Warwick Firefighters Union is contesting the Tier II pension plan implemented in 2012 to reduce pension costs and improve the city’s ability to pay pension obligations going forward. At the time the Tier II plan was proposed, actuaries forecast by the year 2049 the plan would save Warwick taxpayers $9 million a year.

While the Tier II pension system for new employees was approved by the City Council and enacted as an ordinance in April 2011, Joseph Penza, attorney for Local 2748 of the International Association of Firefighters, contends the ordinance does not apply and Tier II must be negotiated as part of the firefighters’ contract.

City Solicitor Peter Ruggiero counters that not only were representatives from the city’s municipal unions involved in discussions over the long-term viability of the city pension systems in 2011, but the firefighters did not follow protocols to contest the change and that an ordinance – city law set by its legislative branch and signed by the mayor – would take precedence anyhow.

“I am disheartened by the actions of the IAFF Warwick Local 2748 to undo the pension ordinance amendments proposed by me and adopted by the City Council in 2011,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said in an email questioning his position on the action of firefighters.

“The municipal and police locals have embraced the revised pension ordinances knowing full well they are necessary for the best interest of the city and their membership. Unfortunately, the action of the Warwick IAFF Local threatens these savings.”

The mayor called Tier II “a win-win for the taxpayers and the contributing employees,” adding that he is disappointed by the “about face” taken by the union leadership “will alter the good working relationship that we have had over the last 26 years.”

The issue of whether Tier II benefits could be enacted by law or required to be negotiated was raised when the plan was advanced in response to the escalating cost of municipal pension plans. All three of the city’s unions – fire, police and municipal employees – argued that pensions are negotiable by contract and that neither the mayor nor the council have the right to unilaterally change them. According to the April 7, 2011 Warwick Beacon, the administration countered that existing benefits defined by contract can’t be changed without mutual consent, but going forward to employees yet to be hired, the city has the power to define benefits as part of an employment contract.

At the time, members of the administration thought it possible that implementation of a Tier II pension plan by ordinance could be challenged in the courts. Nonetheless, the feeling was if the Tier I benefits were left in place for future employees the plan was unsustainable.

Bruce Place, City Council president at the time, reasoned, “It is time to draw a line in the sand,” otherwise future generations would be burdened with costs they can’t afford.

The firefighters are the only municipal union to challenge the Tier II system.

Since implementation of Tier II, 69 firefighters have joined the department, the most recent being 24 this past October. In addition, another 100 city employees come under the Tier II pension system in police and municipal employees.

Last May, the union filed a grievance contending Tier II was not a part of the contract. The city responded that the grievance and request for arbitration was “time barred” because it had not been filed within the time limitations set by the contract. In September, the union moved to proceed with arbitration and the city responded with a complaint seeking a temporary restraining order. The parties appeared before Superior Court Justice Jeffery Lanphear. The parties agree not to proceed and are now waiting for Lanphear’s ruling.

In its complaint the city states that candidates for jobs and successful applicants were provided detailed information on their rights and obligations to and for the pension program and that the union did not file any grievance following the hiring of firefighters in 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014. Further, the city states that the union and city negotiated an agreement covering the period from July 2012 to June 2015 and that agreement was “ratified, pursuant to city ordinance, by the City Council and approved by the Local’s membership.”

The Tier I and Tier II plans differ in the time required to be eligible for benefits and annual living adjustments. For example, firefighters hired prior to July 1, 2012 are eligible to pension benefits after 20 years of service regardless of age. Tier II firefighters must be at least 50 years old and have 25 years of service to become eligible. Tier I benefits have a 3 percent per year annual cost of living adjustment, whereas Tier II are adjusted at 75 percent of the CPI, cost of living index, not to exceed 3 percent.

Penza said the union has “made it clear that it [the Tier II] had to be negotiated” since filing its grievance last May. He said the parties sought to resolve the issue with retired Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court Frank Williams acting as mediator. Penza said the union offered a compromise, which he would not detail, but that it was rejected by the city. No additional mediation sessions have been held.

In his brief to the court, Penza argues the grievance is the proper means to settle the issue and that arguments over whether the grievance was filed on time should be left to the arbitrator.

“The very arguments that the city seeks to present to this court,” Penza writes, “can be heard by an arbitrator.” Based on that reasoning and “for judicial economy” he asks for the court to deny the city’s requests and “rule that the matter proceed to arbitration and have the arbitrator decide the issue of timeliness as a threshold issue to the case.”

William Lloyd, president of the local firefighters’ union, said the city had not followed the state statute regulating the pension and that while the city and police had agreed on a Tier II plan in its 2012-15 contract that was not the case with firefighters. Asked why the union had waited so long to file a grievance, Lloyd said, “Nobody was harmed at that point.” He explained that when firefighters were charged for Tier II pension contributions they had cause for action.

Fire Chief James McLaughlin said recruits for each incoming class of firefighters were informed they would be in the Tier II pension system.

Comments

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Thecaptain

Once again more spin on savings. So lets break down the actual numbers and the savings to the taxpayer. From inception in 2012 until 2049 (37 years) this brainstorm is scheduled to save the taxpayers a whopping 9 million bucks or $243,243.00 per year.

Now, lets cross reference that with the fact that last year the city council agreed to increase the fire fighter unused sick pay bonus scam by 50% which left us with a minimum of $932,500 per year debt, which increases by 1 1/2 % every 6 months. Without the bi-annual increase, that screw up on the part of the council from now until 2049 will cost the taxpayers $34,502,500. (34.5 million) That's at the current rate without increases. So can someone please tell me where the overall savings are going to realized? Will there ever be a time when your elected officials are able to perform simple mathematics, document the facts, not spin it, and actually do something on behalf of the best interest of the taxpayers?

I wonder what your property tax values will reach to cover the unfunded cost of the sick pay scam. Oh, just one other tid bit. As of last Jan.1, the fire department has amassed 22,875 days of unused sick time in the bank at a cost to the taxpayers of $8.47 million dollars liability. When the council agreed to the ridiculously lucrative increase, that jumped the liability as of 7/1/16 to $12.7 million bucks. This cost is not carried on any budget document anywhere in the city. It is completely unaccounted for. And your elected officials cut the deal with the pigs at the trough.

Thursday, January 12, 2017
Warwick Man

Tier 2 is clearly in Police contract, it's clearly in DPW contract. It's no where in fire contract. This isn't about pension 2 T2 it's about city changing benefits without negotiation. And what contract are those current 69 employees working under....... the one that doesn't mention P2T2

Thursday, January 12, 2017
richardcorrente

What a mess.

Would it have happened if Mayor Avedisian had met with the firefighters for an hour each week as I proposed in my mayoral campaign? I guarantee it wouldn't have been worse and I believe it would have been better; a lot better, because both sides would be working together. The savings would benefit the taxpayers, the city AND the firefighters in the form of higher salaries. I met with many of them. They all want the same thing, more money. What a surprise! And they all complain that the mayor "never meets with us." Additionally, they all know that if they aren't careful the well could easily run dry as it did in Coventry. That's why I found them to be very open-minded to ideas that would save/make money IF the money was shared with the firefighters as well as the 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab.

Mr. Mayor, I openly applaud your new found efforts in fixing the teachers contract. I suggest you put the same management-by-open-communication efforts to the benefit of the Warwick Firefighters. Go for breakfast. I'll pay. Bring a blank pad with you so no one can accuse you of violating the open meeting laws. Listen to their money saving or money making ideas. I met with many of them during my Mayoral campaign and I got a college education of good ideas. They are smart business people and should be listened to.

As far as William Lloyd is concerned, he especially should be commended. He didn't file any grievances for three years because, as he says, "no one was harmed at that point". That shows him to be a great team-player. As soon as the firefighters were charged for Tier ll pension contributions, he took immediate action. That shows him to be a great leader.

Like I said, this is a mess, but it is easily fixable. Just meet and talk. Maybe it's time for another breakfast.

Happy Spring everyone.

Rick Corrente

Thursday, January 12, 2017
Scal1024

Rick, for you to continue to pander to unions that will never back you is foolish. I can't wait for 2018 to hear all these great ideas you've been sitting on. Before you lecture the mayor, or the WFD perhaps you could pay the back taxes you owe the city. The ones you failed to mention to taxpayers while looking them in the eye and complaining about taxes.

If this is about something not being negotiated than it will be interesting to see what the union proposes. Pensions aren't in a better place than they were 5 years ago, I can't imagine how they think they're going to get a better deal this time.

I commend the WFD on the job they do. Any interaction I've had with them has been above and beyond and always professional. That said, something has to happen with some type of pension reform. However, nowhere in the article does it say the WFD is unwilling to negotiate. I'm willing to see how this plays out before ripping the city or the WFD. The city's best hope might be to renegotiate with different terms. Maybe gain in one area and sacrifice in another.

Friday, January 13, 2017
PaulHuff

WarwickMan......What am I missing here?

ARTICLE XIV

SECTION 1. PENSION PAYMENTS

a.

Payments into the Fire Department Pension Fund by employees of the department and the City shall be made in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Warwick Code or Ordinances, Chapter 20, Fire Protection and Fire Protection and Prevention

.

b. In Tier I, each member who is an employee, the amount of the members' contributions shall be adjusted to one-third of the annual contribution rate for Tier I determined by the actuary in accordance with section 20-242(c). In Tier II, each member who is an employee the amount of the members' contributions shall be

adjusted to one third of the annual contribution rate for Tier II determined by the actuary in accordance with section 20-242(c). The actuary shall evaluate Tier I and Tier II as a single fund for the purpose of determining the pension contributions for the city (the two thirds share of the total), but shall determine separate employee contribution rates for members of Tier I and Tier II, reflecting one third of the difference in the value of the benefit being provided under this plan for the two tiers.

Monday, January 16, 2017
Warwick Man

Paul huff, yes that is the only mention a tiny line mentioning the rate. No where does it specify, who, when, why, new rules, nothing. Find me that section that says that info. You can't it was never agreed too. Those lines you show were also added AFTER the body ratified the contract.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Warwick Man

Paul huff, See page 54 section C of WPD contract. Clearly written. Can you find that in fire contract?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017
richardcorrente

Dear Scal1024,

I don't know if you realize it, but you're agreeing with me!

You "commend the WFD" and you state "The city's best hope might be to renegotiate with different terms. Maybe gain in one area and sacrifice in another".

Man, that sounds like the same thing I was saying Scal.

For the record, I don't "pander", ever.

However, I won't just look at the bad either. Right is right. Wrong is wrong.If the municipal employees union, for example, is doing something right I acknowledge it. To be fair, if they are doing something wrong, I acknowledge that as well. I believe I have been fair to all. No one should ever be one-sided Scal and you know from reading these comments, there are some of those that comment that feel the glass of water is half-empty-and-full-of-toxic-poisons. I am not like that and I notice you aren't either. I respect your comments even if I don't always agree with them. You have a right to your opinion but if you think I pandered to a union that will never back me, you are wrong in my opinion.

People who condemn everything and everyone, however, have no credibility at all. I honestly believe that if God came down on Earth and gave one of those people a million dollars, he would say "Why weren't you here yesterday?" Sad, pathetic way to live.

Not my style. Not yours either.

Happy Spring Scal1024.

Rick Corrente

Tuesday, January 17, 2017
PaulHuff

Warwickman... I quoted where the FF contract states the provisions will be paid IAW Chapter 20 of the City Ordinances.

a. Payments into the Fire Department Pension Fund by employees of the department and the City shall be made in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Warwick Code or Ordinances, Chapter 20, Fire Protection and Fire Protection and Prevention

20-201 lays out the two tiers as plain as day.

What am I missing here? It was well known about when negotiated, and the membership ratified it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Warwick Man

It was NEVER ratified by the union.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Warwick Man

Clarification... contract was ratified, Pension 2 T2 was not. It was never talked about during contract talks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017
PaulHuff

So if it was in the ratified contract why is Penza claiming it wasn't negotiated for?

I see this grievance as being a waste of time and money for both the administration and the FF Union.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017