It’s been a couple of months since police and municipal employee unions approved contracts that would carry them through the next three years, yet it won’t be until after their current employment agreements expire on June 30 before the City Council considers action on those agreements.
The contracts, negotiated by former Mayor Scott Avedisian, were docketed for action Monday, but deferred until the July 16 meeting. No such tentative agreement was reached with Warwick firefighters nor have there been any discussions with that union since Avedisian left office to take on the job of chief executive officer at the Rhode Island Transit Authority (RIPTA), Mayor Joseph Solomon said Tuesday.
Citing his attention to learning the ropes of the mayor’s job and concentration on the $316 million budget that the council passed Saturday, Solomon said he hasn’t had the time to focus on the contracts.
In his speech to Toll Gate graduates Tuesday and at the Pilgrim commencement Wednesday, Solomon described his first couple of weeks in office “a whirlwind.” Speaking of how quickly things can change, Solomon said, “One minute, I’m the City Council president, and an accountant and attorney in private practice, and the next I’m unexpectedly being sworn in as mayor – and during budget season, the busiest time of year for our government.” He added that his years in public service, community involvement and professional experiences “have prepared me for the challenges that come with being our community’s chief executive officer.”
City Council President Steve Merolla and Council Finance Committee Chairman Ed Ladouceur are both looking for more time to digest the agreements.
Mentioning the tentative agreement with police, Merolla said, “It references a contract from 1971.” Merolla hasn’t seen the 1971 contract. “I don’t even have a complete contract.”
“I’m not going to vote on them until I know what they contain,” said Ladouceur. He pointed out the agreements were negotiated by Avedisian and his people.
“The mayor and head of finance [Bruce Keiser] jump ship and I’m asked to make a decision on it in a couple of weeks…I don’t think so,” he said.
Ladouceur called the budget process stressful, pointing out that neither Avedisian nor Keiser were present to answer questions or give reasoning for the budget.
“We did a good job on a lousy hand,” he said.
Where does that leave municipal employees, police and firefighters?
Solomon said he expects to move forward when he has “the right financial people at the helm and ready.” At this point, however, he added, “I can’t make a promise on anything.”
The “maintenance” budget drafted by Avedisian takes into account raises for both municipal employees and police, as those tentative agreements had been reached. No such provisions have been budgeted for the firefighters and there is speculation, as talks broke off before Avedisian left office, that negotiations are headed to arbitration.
Police Col. Stephen McCartney said Tuesday the council’s failure to take up the police contract has fueled some discussion about retirements and has hurt morale. The Beacon was unable to make contact with FOP President Sgt. Jedidiah Pineau. According to Merolla, the FOP sent emails to all council members Tuesday expressing its disappointment and asking for their support.
Merolla told council members not to respond to the email as that could be considered a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Scott Small, president of Local 1651, Council 94 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, was disappointed yet understanding. He said he had been notified the council would not act on Monday. He said with the transition between mayor and the budget a lot is happening quickly.
“I think things are happening so fast that they need a little time…I don’t see anything bad going on…it’s got to be taxing on them,” he said.
Small said he informed his 287 members of the delay by email. As for the agreement, he called it “very simple” with less than a 3 percent raise for each of the three years plus some minor language changes. He said it was unanimously approved by the union on April 27.
“We’re going to stay positive,” he said. “We’re going to trust that they [the council and the mayor] honor the contract that was negotiated in good faith.”