EDITORIAL

No shortage of blame in pension reform debacle

Posted

There is no way for us to sugarcoat the recent findings by the American Arbitration Association, which on Monday ruled in favor of the Warwick Firefighters’ Union that the City of Warwick failed to properly enshrine pension reform efforts into the collective bargaining agreement not once, but twice, resulting in a $2.6 million (at least) meal that the city’s taxpayers will now get to eat.

The whole situation is a mess. A complicated, confusing mess where there is more than enough blame to go around.

Mayor Solomon wasted little time in throwing former Mayor Scott Avedisian under the bus for failing to ensure that the pension reform language was actually included in the collective bargaining agreements for the fire department, despite being the one to present the ordinance, which created the tiered pension system and touted its financial benefits to the city council in 2011.

He and partial arbitrator Vincent Ragosta both raked Avedisian for not taking the fire department to interest arbitration when they showed resistance to the pension reform and – as we know now – refused to officially agree to including any such language in their contracts.

We agree with Ragosta’s assessment that this quasi-agreement between Avedisian and the fire union, where it appears that Avedisian was simply hoping that the fire department would go along with the pension reform without it being contractually mandated, was at the very least a risky move and at the worst was wholly irresponsible.

The city, Ragosta argued, could have made a valid case at interest arbitration during negotiations for the 2012 contract that pension reform was necessary to the fiscal health of the city, and it is likely that an arbitrator would have agreed – especially since the pension reform was unanimously supported by the city council, mayor’s office and the other two collective bargaining units, both of which did codify the pension reform language into their contracts. This would have forced the fire union to accept pension reform officially through the contract language and prevented this whole debacle.

While we understand City Council President Steve Merolla and Mayor Solomon’s points of view that they were forced, as council members during the contract negotiations, to trust the information brought to them people such as former city solicitor Peter Ruggiero, we also won’t let them off the hook so easily before getting more information.

It was Solomon who has touted his 2006 legislation that required the city council be privy to tentative contract agreements prior to their ratification. The purpose of this oversight should not merely be to take the administration at their word 100 percent of the time. The council is charged with asking questions, getting clarification and pushing hard on issues – especially issues as potentially impactful as widespread pension reform.

We would need to view fiscal notes from the 2012 and 2015 tentative agreements for the fire department, police department and municipal workers unions in order to see if there were any indicators that the pension reform was not truly being implemented and accounted for within the fire department. If the fiscal notes reflect savings from pension reform for the fire department, then blame does not fall on the city council after all, as they would have to trust the fiscal note was prepared and presented factually. However, if the police and municipal fiscal notes showed savings in pension payments that the fire department did not, that would amount to a huge oversight on their behalf.

Lastly, left out of his press conference was any blame coming from Solomon directed at the group that had the most control over the situation as a whole – the Warwick Fire Department’s union.

Union president Michael Carreiro said on Tuesday that the union was pleased with the ruling and that they have been committed to resolving the pension issue “while not burdening the city's taxpayers.” We find this statement particularly contradictory.

By refusing to be flexible on overwhelmingly popular pension reform, the fire union has ensured that a city already embattled by a potential $18 million structural deficit will now face one closer to $21 million – without even broaching the concerns caused by a school department that faces $12 million in cost increases next year.

Will the fire union be satisfied with this ruling as they head back to the negotiating table to try and come to a successor agreement to their contract that ran out this past summer? Will they be willing to commit to no pay or benefit increases so as to not burden the already overburdened taxpayers?

There are lessons to be learned from this situation, and people to be held accountable, but unfortunately the consequences of these types of situations will fall, as they always do, on the backs of taxpayers in Warwick. 

Comments

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davebarry

To close this gap, instead of raking the taxpayers over the coals, how about layoffs? Particularly at the FD which has more men than the police department. At the least, a hiring freeze and a freeze on wages going forward. The FD, much like the one in Providence, cares nothing about us taxpayers. When the golden goose dies, your pensions will be worthless. Don't you get that?

Thursday, March 21
Paul Wall

This was never about the union being unwilling to sacrifice or accept concessions. In fact, the Union has agreed to numerous financial concessions in the past including a 5% pay cut and years without raises. What this was entirely about was the unions opinion (now proved by law) that a city ordinance does not superceed a CBA and as such, any changes must be negotiated. When the city failed to negotiate and instead chose to impose changes unilaterally, the Union had no choice but to defend the sanctity of contract law and file a grievence. If the city could write an ordinance and superceed the CBA here, then there was nothing stopping them from writing an ordinance and violating contract law at will on any number of issues going forward.

Thursday, March 21
Jimmy

100% Paul Wall

Thursday, March 21
Hillsgrove Hal

richard corrente, the city council doesn't need your help to distract people from their responsibility for the current financial situation in Warwick -- they're putting a lot of efforts into it, all by themselves.

But that's not really why you continue to repeat yourself with these inane comments.

No, you make these stupid accusations because you are haunted by two huge election losses, you have convinced yourself that these people are still after you for some reason, and you think you can "win" by making comments on this website.

But you're not going to change the past.

This editorial is right to say that the city council is at least as responsible as Avedisian for failing to do their jobs -- in Mayor Solomon's case, by not reading the fire contract closely enough to make sure that it met the standards he proposed in the ordinance governing new contracts.

It seems to me that, if someone works so hard to put new rules in place, they'd make sure those rules were being followed. Mayor Solomon and Council President Merolla, by their own admission, didn't.

Tuesday, March 26
Patient Man

How does the Editorial Board not mention The Beacons responsibility for our mess? The Mayor, unions, Council & an uninformed, detached, idiotic electorate certainly conspired through malfeasance, ignorance & sloth to get us here. BUT, John Howell & The Beacon certainly share a fair amount of the blame. Avedisian got 75% of the vote in 2014 and 65% in 2016. Perhaps if The Beacon had actually investigated the charges levied by Durand, Cushman etc there would have been a segment of a more informed voters that would have voted differently. Do not for one minute believe that this paper isn't a key conspirator in this farce.

Tuesday, March 26
Hillsgrove Hal

richard corrente, just as I expected, you didn't actually read anything and instead just repeated yourself.

The editorial on this page doesn't put all of the blame on Avedisian.

You are wrong to say "most others" agree with you.

You also ignore the other articles on this website where other commenters make exactly the same point that I did -- that Solomon and Merolla are at least as responsible as Avedisian.

The editorial also doesn't mention anyone except Avedisian, so whatever you think you're accomplishing by naming other people, it's not working.

Have you called the Beacon to see why they deleted your past comments that included that person's name, by the way?

Wednesday, March 27