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.





 

Town’s 2017 Audit Shows $380,296 Surplus

The town had a $1.1 million surplus but the schools had a $728,808 deficit.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Nine months after the end of fiscal year 2017, the town’s audit shows an overall $380,292 surplus and an unrestricted fund balance of $6.4 million.

The audit was posted to the state Auditor General’s website last week (find it here). It has not yet been posted to the town website and was not available in the town finance department Tuesday.

The audit was due to the state by Jan. 1 – six months after the end of the town’s fiscal year.

Town officials received two extensions through March 31. According to state Auditor General Dennis Hoyle, the state got the audit on April 9.

The Town did not officially seek an extension beyond March 31,” Hoyle said via email. “As a matter of course, if we are in communication with a municipality and they need a few more days to complete beyond the approved extension date we allow that.”

In March, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan issued a letter to residents to explain why she had asked for the extensions, citing among other things an adverse legal ruling on the impact fees collected by the Fire District. According to the audit, the town will use $1.7 million from the fund balance to cover the impact fee settlement (page 16). 

In the town’s Management Discussion and Analysis letter (page 7, signed by Finance Director Linda Dykeman), it is noted that the town’s liabilities exceed its assets by $26.9 million.

According to Auditor General Hoyle, “It is not uncommon for governments, on their government-wide (full accrual) financial statements to have negative net position due to the recognition of pension and OPEB liabilities.”

Hoyle noted that East Greenwich opted to implement the new OPEB standard (GASB 75) standards in 2017, a year before it was required.  

“It appears most of the negative net position at June 30, 2017, resulted from the recognition of the OPEB liability,” he said, referring to audit note 23 (page 74) for details.

Other information from the audit:

The town administration was over budget by $464,913, largely due to legal claims and employee contract payout. Fire Department was over budget by a total of $143,739 – the overtime overage of $225,526 was offset by not filing the fire clerk’s position and lower salary and holiday pay.

In addition, the town’s tax rate for 2018 (the current fiscal year) is $23.66 per thousand, with 39 percent allocated for general government and 61 percent allocated for education. For fiscal year 2017, the town’s tax rate was $24.09 per thousand, with 45 percent allocated for general government and 55 percent allocated for education (page 13).



 

Letter to the Editor: I’ll Get You My Pretty … and Your 6 Lateral Transfers Too

It sure feels like Ms. Corrigan is trying to get rid of the six lateral transfers hired by the fire department in 2016, one way or another.

Ms. Corrigan is now using a 3-platoon, 56-hour work-week system as a way to get rid of the six firefighters.

Let’s look at the history of her actions:

It just so happens that she is trying to remove the same six firefighters that she complained about while testifying in the James Perry case.

Ms. Corrigan said she felt a lateral hiring process was “discriminatory” because “generally the number of firefighters that are currently employed are predominately white males” and that the CBA, charter language, the active hiring list were all “thrown away” in the lateral hiring process used. Ms. Corrigan testified that she “took it very seriously and spent a lot of time and energy trying to understand what had happened, how the laterals had come in, how the whole CBA had been — it was almost like a tip of the iceberg is this firing” and why she thought “relying on solely lateral hires is a bad idea” and “not a best practice in employment.”

When questioned further and asked about being discriminatory and if that bothered her, Ms. Corrigan replied, “It’s a fact, it’s a discriminatory practice. As you know, with employment law, there’s a lot, EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission], the Town has an affirmative action program, all of these things when you are hiring laterals, it’s a fact that you are not — you are reducing the subset. It’s a fact. It doesn’t bother me. It’s a fact you are reducing the people that can apply.”

Perhaps the tip of the iceberg stopped with Jim Perry because Justice McGuirl ruled, “This Court finds without question based on the credible evidence before it that Corrigan did not engage in ‘careful and factual consideration,’ as required by §45-1 of the CBA before terminating FF Perry for ‘just cause.'”

And, “There was no valid basis to terminate FF Perry.”

Gall-lee said Gomer Pyke, I’m sure glad Ms. Corrigan didn’t reduce the subset and followed employment law, the EEOC and the Town’s affirmative action program when hiring Ms. Dykeman and Ms. Antunes.

Also noted in the decision of that case is where the judge wrote, “Corrigan stated that her analysis revealed a structural deficit and, in her professional opinion, the lateral transfer procedures were a major contributing factor.” The only other familiar statement from Ms. Corrigan that appears to be missing was about that being “unsustainable” as well.

OK. That didn’t work, let’s try this . . . .

Ms. Corrigan now comes along with a plan to have the firefighters work more hours per week on average (56 rather than 42), while saying it is being done “due to the recognized fiscal and, more importantly, health, safety and wellness concerns from such extensive overtime hours.” So I guess if a firefighter has a bad night and works the 24-hour shift continuously and then has to work overtime, that is now somehow safer than a firefighter who works a 10 or 14 hour shift and has to work overtime.

Ms. Corrigan recognizes the changes as structural changes that will take legal opinions and potentially additional complaints for summary judgement, i.e. a softer way of saying additional lawsuits. Apparently, we haven’t spent enough yet on legal fees.

Ms. Corrigan said she will supply the council with her progress reports at the meeting on June 11. So much for the town manager search, maybe Santa will bring us a new one.

– William Higgins

William Higgins, retired EG police officer and former EMA director for the town, lives in East Greenwich.

Corrigan Argues for 56-Hour Work Week; Interim Chief Says He’s ‘Not a Fan’

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan presents her report to the Town Council April 9, 2018.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Interim Fire Chief Kevin Robinson said during the Town Council meeting – after being asked by a resident during public comment – that he was “not a fan” of the 24-hour shifts required under Town Manager Gayle Corrigan’s proposed restructuring plan.

Corrigan presented her plan of action to reduce fire department overtime expenses to the Town Council Monday night, arguing that changing the shift structure from 4 platoons to 3 could allow the department to go from 36 to 30 employees while building in staff to cover for illness or injury.

That 56-hour work week plan is even now before Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl. The town sued the firefighters in December asking that the court make a declaration that the town has the right to change the structure of the department unilaterally (i.e. without negotiating the change with the firefighters union).

Corrigan wants the council to approve the 56-hour work week but put it on hold until after McGuirl issues a ruling. A hearing is set on the town’s suit Monday, April 23.

Councilman Mark Schwager asked what to expect at that hearing.

Town Solicitor David D’Agostino said the town has asked Judge McGuirl to make a “judgment on the pleadings” – in other words, make a decision using just what is in front of her, with no additional discovery and no addition testimony. The judge could rule on April 23, he said, or she could ask for additional evidence.

“I don’t know if the court is going to be prepared to rule at that time,” D’Agostino said.

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 based on seniority. 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.

She argued that with seven firefighters on “injured on duty” status, it’s like the fire department is already working with only three platoons and she called the proposed reorganization even more of a safety issue than a fiscal one.

After admitting he was not a fan of 24-hour shifts, Chief Robinson said the important thing was to cut down on the number of hours firefighters were working, regardless of the shift structure. In his budget for fiscal year 2019, Robinson has a $1.2 million line item for overtime. Three quarters of a year into fiscal year 2018, $573,000 has been spent on EGFD overtime. Finance Director Linda Dykeman projects the final number to be just under $800,000. Meanwhile, the number of firefighters has remained constant at 36 since 2006, while calls have gone up nearly a third.

Corrigan also outlined possible changes in fire service delivery in the event Judge McGuirl rules against the town, including allowing the chief reduce the number of firefighters on duty overnight, making the department a volunteer service or privatizing the emergency medical rescue service.

Corrigan said she will present a candidate to fill the deputy chief position on an interim basis at the Town Council meeting May 14. No vote on the plan was taken Monday night.

For more information about Corrigan’s presentation, see our earlier story. Watch the entire meeting here.




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.




 

 

 

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.



 

Council Reverses Course, Approves Community Resource Position, 4-1

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Just two weeks ago, the Town Council voted 4-0 against adding a new position of community resource manager as part of Town Manager Gayle Corrigan’s restructuring of the parks, recreation and human services departments. Monday night, the council voted 4-1 in favor of such a position, then approved hiring Rachel Longo to fill it.

In the intervening two weeks, Corrigan beefed up the CRM job description to include 22 specific items, including serving as a community liaison to provide wraparound services to at-risk populations, work with the EG Housing Authority, create a team to engage with individuals who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless, and develop a marketing plan to increase outside rentals of Swift Community Center, to name four. Find Corrigan’s memo to the council and the job description here:

Direction for the shift appeared to come from President Sue Cienki, who came late to the March 12 meeting, missing the original discussion and vote on the CRM position.

“We want to make sure that we’re not only taking care of our citizens from a tax perspective but making sure that services are provided…. One of our missions is to make sure our disabled citizens are being taken care of, our low income citizens are being taken care of,” she said to begin the discussion. “I have suggested that they hold off putting in a park and rec manager so that we can get a community resource manager in place so that we can get this process moving.”

Corrigan’s restructuring came after the departure earlier this month of Erin McAndrew, who served as senior and human services director for the town. After reviewing the applicants, Corrigan decided no single person could fill that role. She named longtime Parks and Rec Director Cathy Bradley to serve as the director of the new director of community services and parks, with three “managers” serving under her – managers for parks and rec, for senior services and for community resources.

Two applicants for the original senior and human services director job were identified to fill two of the manager positions: Charlotte Markey was hired to serve as the new senior services manager and Rachel Longo was pegged to fill the new community resource manager job. Only, when Corrigan laid out her vision at the meeting March 2, the council questioned adding staff at a time when most of the news out of Town Hall is how difficult the financial picture is for the town.

At that meeting, Councilman Nino Granatiero suggested waiting several weeks to see how everything was going before adding the position.

To that end, on Monday Corrigan stressed that the new position would be “revenue neutral.”

With the community resource manager salary at $45,000, the restructuring would cost around $37,000 more than is currently being spent in these areas. The majority of the money to make up the difference would come from the parks and rec salaries and wages line item, which has been running a surplus for several years, up to around $32,000 this year. Corrigan said she would use $26,000 to fund the CRM position. Other money would come from the nonunion continuing education budget line, which is $10,000 but will drop to $500 in the next year with $9,500 going toward the CRM position. Finally, Corrigan said she was going to take $2,500 out of the unemployment account (currently at $133,000).

Councilman Mark Schwager said he remained unconvinced.

“I was concerned at the last meeting and I’m still concerned,” he said, taking care to add that he has nothing against Rachel Longo, the person up for the position. “I think the consolidation was a good idea but I think the position of community resource manager, those duties could be allocated to other staff.”

For instance, he said, many of the items in the CRM job description are also part of Bradley’s job description and the senior services case worker already does a lot of human services work. The marketing and social media could be done by the chief of staff, he said.

Corrigan and Bradley had stressed the need for the town to do a better job anticipating resident needs, particularly in the areas of housing and social services – to be less “reactive.”

Schwager said he didn’t think the town was reactive in these areas.

“I don’t see this as a major blind spot of the town,” he said.

Addressing Schwager, Granatiero said, “I’m usually making that argument that you’re making but I’ve learned to trust the people on the ground. Cathy’s come back and said, ‘I’ve done the assessment on the ground.’ This is why we have these really good department heads.”

Charlotte Markey, EG’s new senior services manager.

The council voted 4-1 in favor of adding the position, with Schwager voting no. That vote was replicated in approving Longo’s hire. Before the vote, Schwager said he thought there should be a new search for that position rather than just filling it with someone who applied for a completely different job.

Meanwhile, the new senior services manager, Charlotte Markey, started last week. In a brief interview Tuesday, Markey said she was thrilled with her new job.

“There’s so much going on here. It’s amazing. Erin did a wonderful job. I just want to continue with that,” she said. “People have been so friendly. I’m just enjoying it so much. There’s such a variety of support and community involvement!”



 

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.



 

With Misgivings, School Committee Approves Finance Consolidation With Town

Several members argue district can’t afford to say no, but others say town is forcing an unnecessary choice.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

After significant debate, the School Committee voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve a plan originally proposed by Town Manager Gayle Corrigan in which the school and town finance and human resources staffs will be consolidated and work as one.

Committee members Jeff Dronzek and Michael Fain voted against the plan, arguing that no change was really needed and that the past year of compromise with the town has yielded nothing positive for the schools.

“I don’t believe we should be essentially blackmailed into one way or the other,” said Dronzek. “We’ve been put in a difficult situation but we’re continually put in difficult situations by this Town Council.”

He said in the past year the Town Council had given the schools far less than they requested and had, as yet, not come through with additional funding as they had promised they would last June. He referred specifically to the extra preschool classroom that had to be added last August due to an unanticipated uptick in the number of students needing preschool services.

“How many times do we walk down the same road?” he said.

Chairwoman Carolyn Mark acknowledged the risk.

“This is uncharted waters. We don’t know if this is going to work,” she said. But she said she was going with the fact that Supt. Victor Mercurio supported the plan. “I’m hearing him say that not proceeding with this is worse than taking the risk of proceeding.”

She said the memorandum of agreement worked out by Mercurio and Corrigan had three important protections for the school district: shared responsibility between the town and schools; a dispute resolution process; and the ability given to either side to walk away from the agreement for the following year with 60 days notice.

“I’m not comfortable with this … but I have to balance what the superintendent says,” Mark said.

Corrigan proposed this all-or-nothing approach – either the town and schools consolidate finance departments completely or the town withdraws the support it already provides and the school district is forced to recreate a standalone finance department – in a joint meeting last December. The School Committee rejected it initially in February

At that February meeting, Mercurio said building a standalone finance department was a non-starter. When asked to estimate what rebuilding a full finance department could cost, Mercurio said it cost $200,000 to $300,000.

Committeeman Matt Plain said it struck him “odd” that the status quo couldn’t be maintained. Ultimately, though, he said he wasn’t willing to risk the loss of school funding if the committee were to vote against the consolidation and subsequently had to spend a big chunk of budget money to build a standalone finance department.

“Complete separation would be painful. We have to take steps to stand up, [but] we also have to protect our kids,” he said, adding, “We have over a year’s worth of evidence that they may venture down this path.”

“The Town Council has not explained why we need to go to these extremes,” said Committee member Michael Fain. “I’m not willing to agree to something I don’t think is a smart move.”

Dronzek said he didn’t think the committee needed to make the choice at all.

“We didn’t propose this. We are our own governing body. The town has to force us to change. This is us playing along,” he said. “We should be able to just table the whole thing.”

Plain acknowledged a level of coercion by the town. “The remedy is political,” he said. All five seats on the Town Council are up for election in November (as are four of the seven School Committee seats).

“We’ve been backed into the corner for reasons that don’t seem reasonable to any of us…. We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Committee member Lori McEwen. Based on that, she said, she had to go with what the superintendent thought was the best option.

Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winter said the School Committee was in this position because the state Auditor General had to be called in last year because of a structural deficit and changes needed to be made.

Dronzek pushed back, arguing that the council’s decision to cut funding to the school district this year wasn’t helping to solve the deficit. He also argued that the cost savings was not comparable to what the School Committee would be giving up.

The consolidation is projected to save $70,000 in salaries. Dronzek said plans to redo the school department central office would eat into any savings (although the salary savings would extend yearly).

Committeewoman Yan Sun said she thought rejecting the consolidation plan was too risky.

“Our risk is one year,” she said, referring to the walk-away clause if either side decided the consolidation wasn’t working. “On the other side … I see that the risk of complete separation is much higher.”

A motion to table the plan failed 2-5, with Dronzek and Fain the lone supporters.

Now that the School Committee has approved the memorandum of agreement on the plan, it goes to the Town Council for a vote.