Warwick Mayor Promises Reform, Restitution After Firefighters’ Pay Issue

WARWICK, RI — Mayor Joseph J. Solomon was forced to scramble late last week when he wanted to examine a vacation benefit written into the firefighters’ union contract.

He wondered if a benefit not approved by the City Council in 2015 had, nevertheless, found its way into the text of the contract.

The version of the contract posted on the city’s website had no signatures on it. Solomon didn’t have an official version of the contract in his office, which he had taken over in March as acting mayor following the resignation of Mayor Scott Avedisian.

Eventually, Solomon said, he determined that retiring firefighters had been paid a higher rate of compensation for unused vacation time, due to an unapproved change that was written into the union contract that Avedisian signed.

Solomon’s experience late last week — as he looked into the discrepancy presented by The Providence Journal — led him to declare that he would create a specific place in City Hall where anyone, including members of the public, can examine union contracts.

The mayor, who won election in November, has promised to reform many aspects of the city’s process for finalizing the various multi-million-dollar covenants it enters into with labor unions.

The city would implement a procedure for the preparation of “certified true originals,” he said, adding that groups of people with the city’s best interest in mind will look at contract language.

The matter is important to Solomon. He was the sponsor of a 2006 ordinance that made all labor agreements negotiated by Warwick mayors subject to ratification by the City Council.

Avedisian, who now directs the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, had vetoed the ordinance, arguing that it was “bad public policy.” The council then overrode the veto to put the policy in place.

Flashing forward to 2018, reporting by The Providence Journal has shown that firefighters have received two types of benefits without council approval.

In October, the firefighter’s union president told The Journal that eligible firefighters had been the recipients of a monthly credit of unused sick time, under a “side agreement” with Avedisian’s administration.

Last week, The Journal showed Solomon that a new vacation benefit had appeared in the contract in 2015, even though the same benefit had not been specifically ratified with other changes to the contract on June 15, 2015.

The change written into the contract increased the amount that the city pays certain eligible firefighters for their unused vacation days at retirement.

It called for the city to stop paying one-fifth of a week’s pay for each day, and start paying one-quarter of a week’s pay.

The old contract was not posted on the city’s website. Solomon said he had the fire chief send him the signed version of the most recent contract.

On Dec. 3, The Journal made a public records request with City Clerk Lyn Pagliarini for information showing the amount of money paid out to firefighters for unused vacation time in recent years.

Solomon has canceled both benefits. He said he has also promised to seek restitution from retired firefighters who were overpaid for unused vacation time.

From The Providence Journal