Unions may re-open city wage agreements
Some Warwick employees may not take the $1,000 bonuses included in the mayor’s budget after all, because they apparently believe they can do better.
According to reports, Warwick Firefighters are balking at the bonus that the mayor proposed as a means of thanking city employees for having agreed to a three-year contract without a wage increase. All three unions agreed to the “zero contract,” as it has become known.
However, the third year of the contract, which the city is now in, includes a wage re-opening clause.
It is that clause that firefighters are considering exercising.
The administration’s position is that the bonus was not negotiated and does not constitute a re-opening of the contract. If the contracts for fire, police and municipal employees – a total of 800 employees – are re-opened, then the bonus would come off the table, acting chief of staff and City Planner William DePasquale said yesterday.
But it couldn’t be ascertained whether, in fact, any of the unions would seek to re-open their contracts.
On Friday, Jean Bouchard, president of Warwick Municipal Employees, was aware that the firefighters and police were considering the wage re-opener and said her union would be watching the situation. DePasquale said he understands the Fraternal Order of Police will bring the matter before the membership in the next two weeks. Efforts to reach FOP President Peter Johnston were unsuccessful.
Likewise, the Beacon left a call back request for the president of the Warwick Firefighters, who was not on duty yesterday. And Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong said it was a union matter taken up by the administration.
While today is the beginning of the new fiscal year, City Treasurer David Olsen said the disbursement of bonuses has not been scheduled. He said he heard talk about the possibility of re-opening contracts but was not aware of the details.
“At this point, this is a line item in the budget,” DePasquale said of the $800,000 earmarked for bonuses. The budget does not allocate funds for salary increases.
Mayor Scott Avedisian proposed the bonus plan only to have the City Council delete it from his budget. The mayor then vetoed the council budget amendments and the council did not have the super majority needed to override the bonus veto.
In his budget message, the mayor spelled out his logic for the bonuses. Speaking of the three “zero” contracts he said, “these agreements helped the city to respond responsibly to dire economic conditions and not overburden city taxpayers.”
With the wage freeze, there was no corresponding increase in benefits for public safety retirees in the Fire/Police Pension Plan I. This reduced the unfunded liability of the plan and eliminated what would have been a necessary spike in payments in a couple of years.
“In recognition of the efforts of our employees,” Avedisian writes in his budget message, “I am including a new line item in the Employee Benefits portion of the budget entitled Employee Fiscal Incentive Plan.”
He goes on to propose, “a one-time, non-recurring $1,000 payment to every full-time employee in lieu of a percentage pay increase.”
From the budget message, it appears clear that the bonus is on condition that the wage re-opener is not exercised.
Unlike a wage increase that would raise the base pay level, the bonus is a one-time payment. The $800,000 is being viewed in that manner as well and would not automatically be built into the following year’s budget.