Each union gets a 3-year contract with 3 percent raises
The Town Council voted 5-0 to approve contracts with three of the town’s five unions – fire, police and laborers – at their meeting Monday night. Members of all three unions will get a 3 percent raise retroactive to July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Town officials had been negotiating with the firefighters since last December; negotiations with the other two unions went more quickly. The town is still working with the unions representing clerical workers and civilian EGPD employees on their contracts.
This was the first set of contracts for the town’s negotiating team, Town Manager Andy Nota, Finance Director Trish Sunderland, and Administrative Services Manager Rose Emilio, which meant establishing relationships with the union heads.
Post Covid and in this inflationary period, the picture is different than it was three years ago, when unions offered concessions in the wake of a tumultuous period under former Town Manager Gayle Corrigan, who had warned of bankruptcy.
Today, said Nota on Monday, base salaries for many town employees were “slipping.” And he noted workplace challenges.
“To maintain a high level of service … we need to remain attractive,” he said, by way of explaining some of the town’s concessions, chief among them the 3 percent salary increase. The unions now also get a half-day on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Union concessions included a move from a weekly pay period to a bi-weekly pay period and health insurance co-shares – $500 the first year, $750 in year two, and $1,000 in year three. In addition, the firefighters agreed to go to a bi-yearly schedule for hiring an outside company to complete extensive cleanings of the two stations. Going forward, the town has offered that the Department of Public Works would clean the stations one year and an outside company would the next. The outside cleaner cost has been in the $45,000 range. The town agreed rigorous cleaning was important – environmental contaminants, particularly from fires, have been shown to cause cancer.
The firefighters also agreed to a one-year trial of a 24-hour schedule. While that sounds reminiscent of the very schedule the firefighters fought hard against in 2017-18 under the previous administration, this would be a 24-hour schedule maintaining the current four-platoon makeup. Former Town Manager Gayle Corrigan had tried to impose a three-platoon, 24-hour schedule. The trial will take place a year from now, starting July 1, 2023. The hope is it could result in some overtime savings since firefighters would not be working back-to-back as much.
“It’s a more consistent schedule and it is a proven method to manage overtime usage,” Nota explained Monday. “It can have a positive effect of eliminating a third of overtime cost.”
Both police and fire were hoping to add more staff in this contract. That did not happen but the town did commit to paying for studies of the two departments by outside contractors to look at everything from staffing to equipment to facilities.
“Looking at these annual percentages simply with the backdrop of inflation …it’s a reasonable cost to the taxpayers,” said Councilman Mike Donegan. “I think it’s a very fair and reasonable result during challenging times.”
Firefighter union president Bill Perry said negotiations were just that – both sides listened and gave a little. “I think it’s a very fair deal for both the town and the union,” he said. The sticking point for his members, he said, was the failure to add staff. With the number of runs going up every year, the town has become reliant on help from nearby communities. As good as that mutual aid is, it usually means a longer response time, which can be demoralizing. But, Perry said, he understands that adding staff is costly.
“I get it, a fire department, a police department, it’s a lot,” he said. “We are truly blessed and great to work for a community like East Greenwich.”
Police union president Dave Petrucci spoke about recruiting challenges.
“I think the town realized that the recruiting landscape has changed for police throughout the state and more broadly, for the entire country, and because of that, a lot of work was done between the town and the union to make sure the police department is able to compete within RI when hiring new officers for the next three years,” said Petrucci.
Part of that is beyond the union contract – looking for a higher wage for probationary officers (who are not yet in the union).
Like the firefighters, police officers are concerned with staffing levels, which have remained static for more than a decade.
“Our union vote was for the most part in favor of our contract as the town did agree to complete a public safety study by the end of fiscal year 2022-23. The study will investigate possible staffing shortages,” Petrucci said. “I think that is at least a good first step by the town in recognizing that the town is growing.”