By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The Town Council will vote on a three-year contract with the firefighters union Monday night, after a public presentation on the contract and an opportunity for public comment.
Town Council President Mark Schwager said it was important to allow the public to see the contract and comment on it before the council voted.
“This is a different process,” he said Friday, compared to earlier contract votes. “This is an area of a lot of public interest. We want to make it clear to the public how the contract was resolved because there was a lot of dissension and difficulty.”
Schwager was referring to the combative approach taken by former Town Manager Gayle Corrigan – with the backing of the majority of the 2016-18 Town Council – towards the firefighters union from early in her tenure up until the end.
Both Town Solicitor Mike Ursillo and town finance consultant Mike D’Amico will be on hand Monday night, with Ursillo presenting language changes in the contract and D’Amico presenting the fiscal analysis.
The biggest change in the contract is a return to an eight-person platoon, with one floater. The current contract, which expires June 30, had shifted the department to a nine-person platoon, with no floater. Losing that floater position meant more overtime shifts, at an estimated cost of $410,000 by the time it was fully implemented this year.
According to town officials, the firefighters are willing to bring back the floater May 1, two months before the end of the current contract, for an anticipated savings of $68,000 in this fiscal year.
Corrigan had identified the loss of the floater as a significant downside of the 2016-19 contract during a review of town finances while still a consultant for the town. Firefighter union President Bill Perry has said the firefighters wanted a nine-person platoon for safety reasons, particularly in case of a significant incident.
Other highlights of the contract include:
- Benefits: Employees hired after June 2019 will only be eligible for retiree benefits like health care for life once they have worked in East Greenwich for at least 20 years. Under the current contract, an employee who worked in another town for 19 years, then just a single year in East Greenwich, would be eligible for health care for life from the Town of East Greenwich.
- Healthcare Costs: For employees hired after June 2019, the town will pay for 3.3 percent of healthcare costs per year worked. An employee who retires after 20 years would be eligible for 66.6 percent of healthcare costs instead of 100 percent, as current firefighters get.
- OPEB liability: Under the new contract, once a retiree becomes Medicare eligible, the town will provide gap coverage with a $220 premium cap. This will yield no initial savings, but according to the town’s actuary, the change will reduce the town’s OPEB (other post-employment benefits) liability by $3 million in 2020, with that reduction growing to approximately $6.5 million by 2028.
- Raises: The firefighters get no raise in 2020, then 2 percent raises in 2021 and 2022 at a cost of $64,000 and $65,000 respectively.
- Holiday Pay: Starting July 1, 2020, the town agreed to pay firefighters for 14 hours instead of 12 on holidays. (Firefighters work either 10 hour or 14 hour shifts.)
- Incentive Pay: For each year of the contract, firefighters with higher certification will get $800 in year one, $1,000 in year two and $1,200 in year three. (It is tied to this contract only.)
Firefighters voted to approve the contract earlier this month. According to Perry, there was give and take on both sides.
“That’s what negotiations are all about, it’s about giving up some things and getting some things but doing so in a manner that is understandable and respectful to what the other party’s needs and asks are,” he said in a statement. “The firefighters truly appreciate the fact that we have had the opportunity to work with a management team that understood, recognized, and moreover embraced that philosophy.”
He added, “We believe that we have been able to make modifications to our bargaining agreement that will be very beneficial to restoring financial stability for the town and the firefighters, as well as rebuild the trust and respect between the new administration, the taxpayers, and the dedicated firefighters.”
Council President Schwager said he thought the contract was good for the town.
“We think it’s a very strong contract and very beneficial to the town,” said Schwager. On Monday, “we’ll discuss it and we’ll vote on it.”
The meeting takes place in Council Chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m. Find the agenda here. Find the entire 54-page contract here (Town of EG – Firefighter contract), D’Amico’s contract fiscal analysis here (FF CBA Fiscal Analysis 2019-22), OPEB projections here (OPEB Exhibits), and D’Amico’s accompanying contract memo here (FF 2019-22 CBA Fiscal Note).
The contract with the firefighters was the first to be settled of the five municipal contracts that expire June 30. Next up, the police.
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