Council Approves Longer Work Week for Firefighters

Three firefighters with their posters Monday night.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

East Greenwich, R.I. – In what has become an predictable divide, the Town Council voted 4-1 Monday night in favor of moving the Fire Department from a four-platoon system to three platoons, increasing their work week from 42 hours to 56 hours. Council President Sue Cienki, Vice President Sean Todd, and councilmen Nino Granatiero and Andrew Deutsch voted to implement the new system; Councilman Mark Schwager voted against.

The rationale behind the reorganization is to lower fire department expenses. Under the plan, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan proposed laying off 6 of the town’s 36 firefighters and adding two “floaters” to each of the three remaining platoons to decrease overtime.

(Click here to learn more about how the three-platoon system works in North Kingstown.)

No changes, however, will be made to the current fire department structure pending Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl’s ruling on a lawsuit filed by the town in December seeking permission to take such an action in the middle of a valid contract. The firefighters contract with the town does not expire until June 30, 2019. A hearing on the issue is set for May 14.

According to Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, the vote was needed to shore up the town’s argument that it already has the management right to take such actions. But, he said, that does not mean the town will automatically switch to a three-platoon system if the judge rules in its favor.

“The implementation of the plan is contingent on more than just a favorable decision by the court,” said D’Agostino. “For example … the number of firefighters out on IOD [injured on duty] status could prevent the implementation of the reorganization because of manpower considerations. Another consideration is that the timing of any reorganization would best coincide with the close of a payroll week, so that the Town would begin … at the start of a new pay period.”

D’Agostino said an additional vote on timing of the shift structure change would be necessary.

In her comments on why she planned to vote in favor of the EGFD restructuring, President Cienki spoke about the need for the town to “start thinking differently” regarding the town’s financial situation.

“We need to have options … for how we’re going to handle our responsibilities,” she said. “This gives us an option of how we can control costs.”

Councilman Schwager said he couldn’t support the plan because it would only further damage relations between the town and the firefighters.

“This is not a recipe for reaching a negotiated agreement with our town employees. And we will have to reach a negotiated agreement unless we want to be in court for months or even years,” he said. “The challenges we face as a town requires both the firefighters and the town find a reasonable solution together. The council’s current strategy has closed the door on the necessary conversation with the firefighters.”

After the meeting, Cienki said the town was willing to negotiate with the firefighters.

“Any time they want to sit down, the town is ready,” she said.

Union President Bill Perry addresses the council during public comment.

Firefighter union President Bill Perry also said the union was willing to talk.

“We are always willing to negotiate and all the town has to do is contact me and request a meeting,” Perry said. “This town manager and Town Council have never reached out to us to negotiate.”

In December, the union agreed to cut the number of firefighters per platoon from nine (an increase they got in the current contract) to eight, enabling the town to restore one floater per shift with the potential to save in overtime costs. Council President Cienki said Monday negotiations broke down because the town wanted to talk about benefits, not just staffing issues.


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How 56-Hour Week Works for NK Fire Department

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The East Greenwich Town Council will vote on whether or not to institute a three-platoon, 56-hour work week for the fire department at its meeting Monday night.*

Just down Post Road, the North Kingstown Fire Department has been operating under that system since 2012. 

In a four-platoon system, firefighters typically work 10 hours on, 14 hours off, 10 hours on, 24 hours off, 14 hours on, 96 hours off.

Under North Kingstown’s three-platoon system, firefighters work 10 hours on, 14 hours off, 24 hours on, 10 hours off, 14 hours on, 72 hours off, then the cycle repeats.

In East Greenwich, as in North Kingstown, the argument for the switch has been cost savings. EG Town Manager Gayle Corrigan began targeting what she has called unsustainable firefighting expenses even as a consultant for the town, before former Town Manager Tom Coyle was “separated” from the town last June and Corrigan was given his job.

So, how has it worked out in North Kingstown?

According to North Kingstown Fire Chief Scott Kettelle in a recent interview, the savings has been in health care costs because there are fewer firefighters. In North Kingstown, a decrease of 15 firefighters (the equivalent of one platoon) was achieved by not filling the spots of firefighters who retired or left. Health care costs roughly $15,000 per firefighter, according to NK Finance Director James Lathrop – totalling $225,000 a year for 15 firefighters.

Under Corrigan’s 3-platoon plan, the EGFD would lay off 6 firefighters, going from a department of 36 to 30 firefighters. EGFD health care savings based on NK costs would equal $90,000 a year under her plan.

If the Town Council approves going to a three-platoon system, what the town would pay firefighters remains unknown. Firefighters are paid an hourly wage; if they receive their same rate of pay for the additional 14 hours a week, that would not provide a savings.

In North Kingstown, when the three-platoon system was imposed, the town argued that firefighters were salaried and as a result it did not pay them for 14 extra hours. Instead, the town gave firefighters 10 percent more a year. If they had paid the hourly wage for the extra 14 hours, firefighters would have gotten a 33 percent increase in annual wages.

In September 2015, the town and the union signed a four-year contract that, by June 2019, will close the 23 percent gap. In other words, firefighters will be paid at the hourly rate they were making for the same position in 2011.

Kettelle said he was not sure how the change affects pension costs. While there are fewer people, those people are working longer hours, so their pensions will be higher, he said.

EG Town Manager Corrigan’s answer to high overtime costs is to add two “floaters” to each shift – essentially two extra firefighters who can fill in for people who are out (due to injury, illness or vacation) so minimum staffing levels are met. North Kingstown has three floaters per shift and, indeed, overtime costs have decreased in recent years. Still, this year’s overtime is budgeted at $550,000 and Chief Kettelle said the actual overtime number will be about that.

Do to long-term injuries and one firefighter’s decision recently to go join Cranston Fire, NKFD is down to two floaters on two shifts and one floater on one shift. Because the next fire academy isn’t until September, Kettelle said, that means the department won’t have someone available for service to replace that firefighter who left until early 2019.

“There’s 168 hours in a week. Those hours have to be covered,” said Chief Kettelle.

He said there is another cost to be factored in under the three-platoon system: wages under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). North Kingstown and East Greenwich both use a 28-day period under which firefighters can work 212 hours before they have to be paid overtime according to FLSA.

In a 28-day period under the 56-hour work week, one platoon works 196 hours, one platoon works 216 hours, and one platoon works 240 hours. For anyone who works more than 212 hours in a 28-day period (a person has to actually work those hours – illness, injury or vacation time does not count), the town has to pay an additional “half time” for those extra hours so they are making overtime pay (time and a half).

“You have to factor in the FLSA number,” Kettelle said. A few years back, North Kingstown hadn’t been calculating FLSA correctly and firefighters brought a complaint forward. The town eventually agreed with the firefighters and paid double damages back two years.

In East Greenwich, it could get more expensive since firefighters earn “collateral pay” for jobs such as dispatch, training, EMS coordinator – a lower hourly rate that does not count toward their 42-hour work week and so is not subject to regular overtime. But, under FLSA, work is work regardless of contractual arrangements, so FLSA costs could increase significantly in East Greenwich under a three-platoon system, Kettelle said.

East Greenwich’s FLSA costs now are roughly $10,000 to $12,000.

The legal fees to enact the three-platoon system are estimated at $1.5 million. East Greenwich labor legal fees are a mystery – the last bill the town received was for $140,000 for work through November.

Beyond the finances, Chief Kettelle said running a three-platoon system is hard.

“Operationally, it is more challenging then the four platoon system. You have 25 percent fewer bodies available to you,” he said. For Kettelle, that becomes most apparent during weather emergencies like heavy snow storms or hurricanes.

“We would typically hire back additional personnel for each vehicle and bring in more vehicles,” he said. But there are fewer people to hire back. And, unlike during a community-based emergency, such as a building fire, North Kingstown can’t rely on mutual aid from other communities since those communities are dealing with the weather event too.

“Under the four-platoon system, there’s always one platoon that’s completely off,” Kettelle said. Now, if he has to fill slots in a shift, he has to either get someone to stay at work after they’ve already worked their shift, or he has to bring someone in early before their regular shift starts.

“Now it’s a lot harder to fill overtime shifts. We are ordering people to work against their choice considerably more than we did under the four-platoon,” he said. “From the firefighter standpoint, under the three-platoon system, overtime is a burden not a benefit. Guys don’t want to work any more hours.”

Kettelle said North Kingstown has created an ad hoc committee made up of members of the fire department administration, the firefighters union and the town’s finance department to study the true cost of a three-platoon versus a four-platoon system. The panel has not begun that work.

* Town Manager Corrigan has recommended the Town Council approve the schedule change pending Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl’s ruling on the town’s lawsuit that argues the town has the right to break the union’s contract to impose the change.





 

Police Log: Fires, Hit-and-Run, and a Syringe

By Bethany J. Hashway

Monday, March. 26

5:58 p.m. – Police were called to assist EG Fire at Castle Street for a report of a structure fire. When police arrived, EGFD had put the fire out. It had started in a recycling bin next to the side of the house. A UPS driver saw the fire while delivering a package to the house and he alerted the homeowner. The homeowner was able to largely extinguish fire using a garden hose; when  EGFD arrived, they put out the rest of the small fire. It was unclear of how the fire started. There was some damage to the recycling bin and to a portion of the wood shingling on the south side of the house. 

Tuesday, March. 27

7:26 p.m. – Police cited a Providence man for possession of marijuana after he was involved in a car accident at Main Street and First Avenue. Police smelled marijuana on an injured passenger who was being treated at the scene by fire department personnel. Police asked the man if he was carrying any marijuana, noting that the fire department does not allow passengers to carry illegal drugs when being transported by rescue. The man denied having any marijuana, but police found a large plastic bag containing what later tested positive for marijuana in his pocket during a pat-down search. The man said he did not have a medical marijuana card. Police confiscated the marijuana and the man was taken to the hospital to be treated. Once tests determined that the substance was indeed marijuana, police mailed the man a citation.

8:29 p.m. – Police arrested a Warwick man, 66, for leaving the scene of an accident, after police were called to Post Road at the (former) Benny’s Plaza for the report of a hit-and-run accident. At the scene, the driver who had called the police said she had been driving southbound when a small Mercedes sedan pulled out of the Jason’s parking lot and ran into the passenger-side door of her car. The woman said the Mercedes fishtailed as the driver tried to get it under control, then the car drove off northbound on Post Road. Two people said they witnessed the incident and told the woman that the other car’s license plate was stuck on her passenger-side door.

Wednesday, March. 28

1:49 a.m. – Police stopped a Providence man for having dark tinted windows and after a licence plate check showed that the plates weren’t on file. The driver told police that he had just purchased the car and lost the dealer plates, so he placed his license plate from his old car onto this one until he was able to register the car. Police gave him a summons for driving an unregistered car, and gave him a warning on the illegal window tint. Police seized the license plates and the car was towed.

Friday, March. 30

2 p.m. – A Main Street resident told police she found a syringe filled with what looked like blood when she was doing yard work. Police took the syringe and disposed of it.

5:48 p.m. – A Queen Street resident told police that she gave her daughter permission to open a PayPal account with her Santander credit card in the beginning of March to buy a $4.99 teddy bear. During a recent visit to her bank, Santander, she learned her balance was low. It appeared her daughter had withdrawn $942.12 from her account using the PayPal account. She had the bank cancel the bank card.

Sunday, April 1

10:42 a.m EG police picked up a Cranston man, 52, from Cranston PD after he was arrested in that city on a warrant out of East Greenwich for larceny.

3:45 p.m. – Police were called to Ashbrook Run for a fire. Police found a large fire pit piled high with large pieces of furniture that had tumbled over beyond the confines of the fire pit, lighting nearly logs, branches and twigs on fire. The homeowner was trying to contain the fire but the fire department was called and extinguished the blaze. No one was injured.

Corrigan Presents Plan for 56-Hour Firefighter Work Week

Station One on Main Street.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Among other ideas, the town manager suggests returning to a volunteer fire service and/or contracting out EMS service.

East Greenwich, R.I. – Town Manager Gayle Corrigan will present her plan to restructure the fire department from the current four platoons to three at the Town Council meeting Monday (EGFD Restructuring Proposal 4/2018).

In a four-platoon system, firefighters typically work 10 hours on, 14 hours off, 10 hours on, 24 hours off, 14 hours on, 96 hours off.

Under Corrigan’s proposed three-platoon system, firefighters would work 24 hours on, 48 hours off. The plan calls for 30 firefighters – 8 plus 2 floaters per shift – down from the current 36 firefighters. She recommends laying off the extra 6 firefighters.

Corrigan recommends the Town Council adopt the reorganization but hold off implementation until after Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl rules on the town’s pending lawsuit against the firefighters on whether or not it has the right to reorganize the platoons without consent of the union. The town and the firefighters are in the middle of a three-year contract, from 2016 to 2019.

In her proposal, Corrigan suggests other possible cost-saving measures if the court rules against it. Among those suggestions would be to decrease the number of firefighters on overnight, a time when the number of incidents is lower.  Corrigan also suggests the possible return to a partial or largely volunteer fire service and subcontracting out EMS service.

Corrigan also says in her plan that the department needs a deputy chief – a position she has kept vacant since her arrival last June. She will recommend an interim deputy fire chief at the May 14 Town Council meeting.




 

 

 

Ethics Commission to Investigate Complaint Against Firefighter

Firefighter union president Bill Perry talks with former interim Fire Chief Olsen last November.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Former Fire Chief Peter Henrikson filed the complaint against Lt. Bill Perry, saying he and his brother should not work in same platoon.

The state Ethics Commission is investigating a complaint filed against firefighter union president Bill Perry – a lieutenant – that accuses him of conflicts of interest because his brother, a firefighter – was placed in the same platoon.

In its “Notice of Determination,” the Ethics Commission writes, “the … complaint alleges facts sufficient to constitute a violation of the provisions of the Rhode Island Code of Ethics.”

On its website, the Ethics Commission describes such an “initial determination to investigate” this way:

The decision to investigate does not address the validity of the complaint; rather, it merely indicates that the allegations properly fall under the provisions of the Code of Ethics. Neither the complainant nor the respondent participates in the initial determination.

Peter Henrikson, who served as EGFD chief from 2010 to 2013, filed the complaint (Perry Complaint).

In the complaint, Henrikson cites an Ethics Commission opinion from 2016, in response to  Perry’s request for a ruling on his brother James Perry’s application for a job with the East Greenwich Fire Department. In that application, then-Fire Chief Russell McGillivray said it was “very unlikely” that James Perry would be assigned to Bill Perry’s platoon because of Bill Perry’s position of authority over his brother.

James Perry did end up in Bill Perry’s platoon, Platoon B. However, Bill Perry works on Engine 1 at Station One (on Main Street) and James Perry works on Rescue 2 at Station Two (on Frenchtown Road) and James Perry is supervised by two other firefighters, a lieutenant and a captain.

Bill Perry’s lawyer, Elizabeth Wiens, said there would only be a conflict if Bill was in charge of evaluating his brother. He is not, she said.

Another accusation in Henrikson’s complaint is that Bill and James Perry are eligible for additional overtime because Platoon B recently lost its floater position due to a change in the contract.

That, however, would be impossible, since the overtime due to the loss of the floater would be available only when members of Platoon B are working. Members of that platoon would be the only firefighters not able to work overtime then since they would already be working that shift.

Henrikson’s complaint also addresses fill-in procedures – suggesting that Perry could have a hand in helping his brother get overtime spots. According to firefighters, overtime slots are filled off a list – the first name on the list gets the call, and so on; they are not determined by the ranking officer. Henrikson included a copy of EGFD fill-in procedures and other documents that are not public. He did not respond to a request about how he possessed those documents.

Henrikson has been advising Town Manager Gayle Corrigan in her efforts to restructure the fire department and he has met with both interim fire chiefs. His complaint was notarized by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino. His wife, Kristen, works as clerk for the fire department. Henrikson retired from the department just as it went from a separate fire district to merging into a town department.

Two months before Henrikson retired, the firefighters union – headed by Perry – passed a vote of no confidence in Henrikson as chief by a margin of 36-1.

Perry has 20 days from March 27 to respond to the complaint, although technically he has yet to receive the “notice of determination” that was sent to him via certified mail on that date. His lawyer has since obtained a copy from the commission via email. 

Henrikson had given Station One as Perry’s address but all EGFD mail goes to Town Hall. Perry only learned of the complaint after a resident tweeted about it Saturday. Town officials gave Perry the original complaint on Tuesday, 19 days after it had been sent by certified mail. The commission’s letter of determination was sent by certified mail on March 27; Perry has not yet received it from the town. 

In a letter to Town Solicitor D’Agostino (Wiens to D’Agostino 4/2/18), Perry lawyer Wiens outlined her objections to the town’s failure to deliver Perry’s mail in a timely fashion and questioned Henrikson’s access to town documents. She called Henrikson’s complaint the act of a “disgruntled former chief.”



 

Corrigan Continues Assault on Fire District Merger

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan (left) presented another chapter to her look back at the 2013 merger of the East Greenwich Fire District into a town department, continuing her argument that it took place without due diligence and with grave financial consequences for the town. (Find her report here.)

As she has done several times in the months since she’s been town manager, Corrigan said the fire department was too expensive and needed to be fixed.

Her solution: restructure the department into three platoons that work 56 hours a week from the current four platoons and 42-hour work week. The town has sued the firefighters to be able to impose the restructure immediately; firefighters say they have a valid contract until 2019.

Corrigan’s report, while repeating arguments made in earlier reports, did take more exact aim at some of the people in charge in recent years. In particular, she cited what she said was the inexperience of former Town Manager Tom Coyle, former Town Solicitor Peter Clarkin and former Fire Chief Russ McGillivray in negotiating contracts.

However, Coyle served as police chief before becoming town manager and negotiated contracts in that position; Clarkin negotiated several rounds of contracts for three unions during his tenure in East Greenwich before adding the firefighter contract; McGillivray came from the larger West Warwick Fire Department and served as deputy chief in EG for three years before becoming chief. McGillivray and Coyle both hold master’s degrees in public administration.

Corrigan questioned the increase in the number of “service calls” (i.e. miscellaneous calls) between 2013 and 2014 (when the district became a department). As she said, the increase was due to the decision to classify alarm box resets as service calls.

In a phone interview Thursday, McGillivray (who took over as chief in 2013) offered this explanation for the classification change: “We were just trying to account for the hours and the work that the fire department was doing. When we went from the fire district to the fire department, I saw that social services and police department were very data driven and I wanted to get a better accounting of the work we actually did.”

Meanwhile, the total number of incident calls (including service calls) has risen steadily in recent years.  Even if service calls are subtracted, the fire department had more than 1,000 additional incidents in 2017 than it had in 2006, the year the fire district topped out at 36 total firefighters. In 2006 there were 2,386 incidents; in 2017, there were 4,121 (665 of them classified as service calls).

Corrigan also highlighted a jump in rescue billing rates between 2015 and 2016, but said she had not yet looked into the cause for the increases.

Former Fire Chief John McKenna (who served as chief from 2005 to 2010) was at the meeting Monday and during public comment he said that spike came after the billing company – Comstar – went from using a base rate and subcategories in its billing charges (for instance, separating out fees for starting an IV or using oxygen) to having one blended cost. McKenna, who now works in private industry, said the change was for all Comstar clients, public and private. McGillivray gave the same explanation Thursday.

In her report, Corrigan spoke about raises, saying some firefighters got a 48 percent raise in the current contract, while everyone else in town got 2 percent raises.

According to firefighter union president Bill Perry, the firefighters got a 2 percent raise like everyone else but he acknowledged that six so-called lateral transfers (firefighters hired from other departments) were given the salary of a second-year firefighter instead of a first-year firefighter, which came out to about $3 more per hour for those six firefighters (a 2 percent raise that year would have been in the range of 50 cents an hour).

He said he did not know where Corrigan got the 48 percent figure.

During public comment Monday, Perry urged the council to talk to other municipalities where they have put in a three-platoon system. There have been four.

In North Kingstown, town officials imposed a three-platoon system that was fought extensively and expensively in the courts; firefighters there lost after it was ruled they did not have a valid contract. A three-platoon system was also imposed in Providence, but the city abandoned it after years of litigation and went back to a four-platoon system. The city had to pay Providence firefighters several million dollars in overtime accrued during the three-platoon, 56-hour work weeks. Tiverton and Central Coventry Fire District also have three-platoon systems – Tiverton’s through negotiation and Central Coventry’s was imposed after that district went bankrupt. Corrigan runs Central Coventry.

“Do your due diligence. We have an active contract,” said Perry. “I would hope that everybody would be adults and sit down instead of having attorneys become wealthy off the community. Nobody benefits from that.”

“Bill, we’d be happy to sit down,” Council President Sue Cienki said.

The last attempt to negotiate failed in December; both sides blamed the other side.

Corrigan said she would present “phase one” of her restructuring plan at the April 9 Town Council meeting.



 

Drugs in a Car & Too Many Air Fresheners

By Bethany J. Hashway

Tuesday, March. 6

7:12 p.m. – Police arrested a New Hampshire man, 22, for driving with an expired license after he was pulled over because one of his tailouts was out and for too many air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror. Routine checks showed the plates didn’t match the car, the car was unregistered and the man’s license was expired. The man told police he was in the process of registering the car. He was issued summons for windshield obstruction, unregistered car, and no proof of insurance. He also received a District Court summons for driving with an expired license. The car was towed; police seized the plates.

Wednesday, March. 7

7:41 p.m. – Police arrested a North Kingstown woman, 41, downtown for driving on a suspended license after they noticed her because of a missing front license plate. Routine checks turned up the license suspension. Police issued a District Court summons for driving with a suspended license and cited her for driving with an expired registration, display of registration plates, and obedience to stop sign.

10:10 p.m. – Police arrested a Cranston woman, 32, for driving on a suspended license after she rear-ended a police cruiser. At the time the cruiser was hit the officer was out of the car. Routine checks were done, and they found the driver’s license had been suspended along with the registration. She was taken to the hospital and was issued a District Court summons for driving on a suspended license.

Thursday, March 8

9 a.m. – A Taylor Circle resident told police about an unwanted FedEx package she received on Feb 22. The woman told police the package was addressed to another woman but had listed her home address. She opened the package and inside was a new iPhone 7 from AT&T. She called AT&T but she said they were not helpful. The day the package was delivered, she told police, a man in his 20s came to her front door asking for it, explaining that it was from a relative of his who’s name was on the package. The woman refused to give him the package and he left in a silver colored car. She gave the package to police.

Friday, March. 9

10:30 a.m. – Police arrested an East Providence woman, 35, after she turned herself in on a warrant for domestic simple assault, domestic disorderly and disorderly conduct. She was processed and taken to Kent County Courthouse.

Saturday, March. 10

5:28 a.m. – Police arrested a Warwick woman, 22, for possession of a controlled substance after police were called to the Park-and-Ride on Frenchtown Road on a report of a fight in a car there. Police found only one car in the lot and the car had clothes spread around the outside of the car. Police went over to the car and talked to the three people in the car, from which there was a strong odor of marijuana. Police searched the car and found what appeared to be marijuana, as well as a smoking device, an herbal grinder and a bottle of alcohol in the center console. Police then got the people out of the car and found a cigar with marijuana in it, 2 grinders, a clear bag of more marijuana, BB guns, money with a white powdery substance in it and Xanax pills. The Warwick woman was taken into custody and transported to EGPD headquarters for processing. She was charged with possession of a controlled substance (Xanax). Later she arraigned by a bail commissioner and released at 10:30 a.m.

A passenger in the car, a Providence man, 19, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after becoming aggressive toward the police during the stop. He was taken into custody, arraigned by a bail commissioner and released.

A third person from the car, a man from Providence, age 22, was arrested for possessing marijuana and disorderly conduct after he became aggressive toward police.  

4:35 p.m. – Police arrested a Warwick woman, 42, after she turned herself in on a warrant on crank or obscene phone calls. She was processed and arraigned by a justice of peace and told to have no contact with the recipient/s of her crank or obscene phone calls. She was later released and was given a date to appear in District Court.




 

Firefighters Sue Town, Allege Fair Labor Standards Act Violations

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

East Greenwich firefighters have filed suit in U.S. District Court against the town, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, in particular with regard to overtime pay.

“We have been trying to get answers from the finance director for months now regarding what we believe are errors in how the town is calculating our FLSA overtime pay,” said union president Bill Perry in a press release. “The town went from paying us what we believe is the wrong amount, to not paying us FLSA overtime at all.”

Perry said he has been asking about FLSA payments since December.

FLSA is a federal law that dictates that employees who work more than 212 hours over a 28-day period are due time and a half for every additional hour. FLSA payments are distributed quarterly and for EG firefighters average around $2,000, said Perry. But recent payments have not listed the number of hours worked and Perry said looking at the payments, it was hard to know if the town was following the law. He said repeated requests for more detailed information have gone unanswered.

The town has seen a flurry of litigation since Gayle Corrigan was hired as town manager last June. While many have been filed by the firefighters – including one resolved in their favor – there have also been four suits filed by former town employees suing for wrongful termination. In addition, firefighters have filed numerous grievances and the town filed a lawsuit against the firefighters in December, seeking permission from the court to break their contract, which doesn’t expire until 2019.

The town has already spent more in legal fees than was budgeted, and that’s only for legal work through November.

The firefighters say they offered to open the contract earlier this year and make concessions; the town says the firefighters did not negotiate in good faith. Both sides say publicly they are open to continued negotiation.



 

Town Stops Payments to Union Leaders for Most Union-Related Business

Corrigan calls such pay “unlawful.”

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

East Greenwich, R.I. – Town Manager Gayle Corrigan has notified the town’s unions that the town will no longer compensate union officers for most union-related work – known as bargaining pay – calling such payments “unlawful.” She cites R.I. General Law 28-7-13(3)(iii).

Union heads were sent the letter in January. The firefighters union has since filed an unfair labor practice complaint on the issue with the state Labor Relations Board.

Corrigan’s letter was ambiguous. After first saying the town “will no longer compensate employees for services performed on behalf of a labor organization,” she writes, “employees may still permitted[sic] to confer with the town during working hours without loss of time or pay, to the extent such conferences are authorized….”

“It is a direct violation of our collective bargaining agreement,” said firefighter union President Bill Perry. “Just more litigation the town has chosen to take which will cost tens of thousands of dollars in litigation costs.”

Find Corrigan’s letter here (exhibit 2): Exhibits in FF Response.

Although the letter was sent to all four town unions, these sorts of expenses typically are only accrued by police and firefighters. That’s because police and fire have minimum-manning levels so if a union official attends a grievance hearing or an arbitration during his or her regular shift, the department must bring in someone to cover.

While the amount of money that costs in overtime will vary depending on the level of contentiousness in a given year (i.e. the number of grievances filed, litigation, etc.), Perry said the added expense averages around $5,000 a year for the fire department. He added the overtime expense only happens when something is scheduled when a union official is on duty. If an arbitration or grievance hearing is scheduled during a time when the union official is not working, there is no need to incur the expense of bringing in someone to cover.

Meanwhile, the town – which filed suit against the firefighters in December –filed a “motion on the pleadings” earlier this month, looking for Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl to rule on bargaining pay as well as the larger issue of the town’s ability to impose a 56-hour work week on the firefighters. If the judge grants a motion on the pleadings, she would make her ruling only on the town’s original complaint (and the firefighters response, which has yet to be filed). In other words, there would be no additional “discovery” (i.e. information) and no trial. (Find the motion here: Town of EG Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.)

There is a hearing on the town’s motion scheduled for Monday, April 23.

The main thrust of the town’s argument on the 56-hour work week is that it is a “management right” to make such schedule changes. Under such a change, the motion argues, the town and the union would then need to negotiate “the effects of the town’s decision to implement a three-platoon structure.” That would come down to compensation. According to Town Manager Corrigan, the reason to go to a three-platoon system is to cut down overtime expenses. It’s unclear how the town would be willing to compensate the firefighters for the additional work hours expected under the three-platoon structure. The firefighters have said they would expect to be paid for the extra hours.

The town’s motion relies heavily on what happened in North Kingstown a few years ago, where that Town Council voted to implement a three-platoon system and the state Supreme Court eventually ruled the Town Council acted within its rights because the firefighters were without a contract at the time of the vote. In East Greenwich, the firefighters’ contract is not up until 2019.

The town’s motion also argues that the section in the firefighters’ “current collective bargaining agreement stating the town must compensate up to three elected union officials ‘for bargaining unit business in connection with conferences with its attorney or union representative regarding contract negotiation matters and/or arbitration matters concerning the collective bargaining agreement,’ is unlawful, unenforceable and void.”

It makes the same argument regarding other union-related business, such as grievance arbitration and hearings, conferences with union membership, and any state or national union meetings.

With the town’s motion in Superior Court and the firefighters’ complaint before the state Labor Relations Board, it’s conceivable that there could be two different rulings.

The motion was signed by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino and outside lawyer Tim Cavazza. D’Agostino receives a monthly retainer of $11,000 for his East Greenwich work. Cavazza and his firm (Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder & Siket) were hired in late summer 2017 to work on firefighter labor issues. The town has so far paid $104,000 to Whelan, Corrente, for legal services through November.

Meanwhile, last week the town paid firefighter lawyer Wiens $41,905 in legal fees for the six-day trial last fall in which, among other rulings against the town, McGuirl said it had illegally fired firefighter James Perry. Town Council President Sue Cienki had said the town would consider an appeal but no appeal was filed before the deadline earlier this month.



 

Police Log: Church Car Breaks, Cocaine on Duke St. & Russian Flag at EGHS

By Bethany Hashway

Monday, Feb. 26

1:24 a.m. – Police cited a Coventry man for driving a car with expired registration after he was pulled over on Route 4 for speeding. According to the report he was doing 89 mph in a 55 mph zone. Routine checks showed the registration was expired. The car was towed from the scene and the man was issued a summons for speeding.

12:25 p.m. – A South Road resident asked police if he was within his rights to aim surveillance cameras at the front of his property, which he said had been strewn with litter in recent months, specifically empty Natural Light beer cans. The police said the man was allowed to aim the cameras toward the road but recommended not including any other residences within camera range.

5:16 p.m. – Police arrested a Warwick man, 41, on a warrant after he turned himself in on a warrant for simple assault, disorderly conduct, domestic simple assault and domestic disorderly. He was arraigned by a justice of peace and given a no-contact order related to the domestic charges. He was later released with a court date.

Tuesday. Feb. 27

2:15 a.m. – As police were doing a routine check at EGHS they found a Russian flag on a pole attached to the Avenger statue at the entrance to Carcieri Field. Upon further investigation, police found graffiti on three stop signs, one parking sign and on the concrete base of a light police. The school resource officer was notified about the vandalism.

Thursday, March 1

12 p.m. – An East Greenwich resident told police about a party at an apartment on Duke Street that’s known to police as a site of illegal drug activity. While police were surveilling the area, they saw a man leave the apartment and look around as if to see if he were being watched. Police retreated to a nearby location when it appeared the man knew he was being watched. Some minutes later, they saw the man crouching behind a building on Duke Street. Police drove up to the man and ordered him to come with them. He ran off and was not located. Police found a bag of what appeared to be cocaine nearby to where the man had been standing. Further searching turned up four additional bags, for a total of approximately 2.5 grams. A resident told police the suspect’s car was parked on Queen Street. A check of the car’s registration identified a man police identified through his driver’s license photo as the one who had run away. 

Friday, March. 2

2:11 a.m. – Police arrested an East Greenwich woman, 22, for domestic assault and battery after she allegedly punched her father in the face following a car- and-pedestrian accident in the municipal parking lot. The woman told police she’d gone out to Kai Bar with her mother and father and a family friend and that she saw her father put his hand on the friend’s leg, making her suspicious. The man was to drive the friend home while the woman was going to drive her mother home. But the woman and her mother decided to check on the father, who had parked in the municipal lot. The woman said she saw her father kissing the family friend in his car. Her mother then got out of the car and went over to the father’s car, reaching for the driver’s side door just as the man pulled away, causing the woman to fall. The man got out of his car and the daughter then hit him in the face with a closed fist causing a cut; he was treated at Kent Hospital. The woman was taken into custody, and processed and held overnight.

3:40 p.m., 6:11 p.m. and 7 p.m. – During a nor’easter with the heavy rain and wind conditions, EGPD responded to three houses damaged by fallen trees, on Mawney Street, Fox Run and South Pierce Road. Police were also busy with other downed trees and wires throughout the town during the storm.

5:50 p.m. – A North Providence resident told police that his car was stolen on Feb. 28 after he was involved in a car on Division Street east of Route 2. He said after the accident, in which he struck his head and thought he’d lost consciousness for a time, police were on the scene and ended up dropping him off in an unfamiliar neighborhood in Cranston and his car was towed. He was not sure what police department dealt with him and he said rescue never showed up to examine him. He eventually made it home to North Providence but has not been able to find his car even after contacting several towing companies and police departments. Because of that, he had decided to file a stolen car report.

Saturday, March. 3

10:54 p.m. – Police arrested an East Greenwich man, 27, for driving while intoxicated after they were alerted to a call about a hit and run accident at 500 Main St. involving a red Saturn. Police found the car parked in the Greenwich Hotel lot, with the driver standing nearby. At first, the man tried to run away. After a brief chase, the man stopped and told police he’d never been in an accident before and was scared. Police could smell alcohol on the man, his speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot. The man took the field sobriety tests and failed, so police took him into custody. He was issued a District Court summons and a separate summons for refusing to submit to a chemical blood alcohol test. 

Hit and Run in House

10:55 p.m. – A resident from South Pierce Road told police a car drove onto his front yard, damaging it, then left the scene. The man said the car was white, possibly a Crown Victoria. He said he’d been in his house when he heard the car drive up onto his front yard and then try to get back on the road. He said he saw two people arguing. The passenger got out of the car but when he saw the homeowner, he got back in the car and they drove off. The car left tire tracks across the entire front yard, damaging grass, a rock wall and the water line. From skid marks, police saw the car had been heading west on Middle Road, then made a sharp left on South Pierce and drove up onto the man’s front yard.

Sunday, March. 4

11:30 a.m. – A Warwick resident told police that while he was at church at St. Luke’s, someone tried to break into his car, which was parked in the municipal lot near Swift Community Center. The front passenger window had a puncture mark on it; the back passenger window had been smashed in. Nothing appeared to be missing from the car but two days later someone found and turned in a temporary license, a credit card and a few other items belonging to the man.

11:54 a.m. – A Narragansett man told police someone had broken into his car while he attended church services at East Greenwich High School. The front passenger window had been smashed and his wallet, which he’d left on the seat, was missing.

2:09 p.m. – A Smithfield man told police someone had tried to break into his car while it was parked in the back (teachers) lot at East Greenwich High School. The man had been attending church services there that morning. There were three small holes in the driver’s side window but the vehicle did not appear to have been entered.

Monday, March. 5 – Assault

12:11 a.m. – A Peirce Street woman told police her daughter had assaulted her after the woman after an argument. The daughter threatened her mother then hit her in the face, causing her nose and lip to bleed. She fled the scene with her 2-year-old son and her brother. Police issues a BOLO (be on the lookout) for the woman and contacted DCYF.