We, as North Kingstown Town Council, have remained
silent regarding the contract talks between the North Kingstown Firefighter
Union and the Town of North Kingstown until now so as not to complicate the
issues or be called out as not bargaining in good faith.
Throughout the entire contract negotiations the Firefighter’s Union has taken every opportunity to attack the town’s position in the press without stating the real issues that remain unresolved. Until now the town has taken the position that we will not negotiate in the press. Here are the facts that exist regarding the contract:
- The town has complied with all of the required negotiation steps over the past two plus years including mediation, arbitration and interest arbitration without coming to a mutual agreement.
- RI General Law states that a contract cannot exist after three years. The contract period was completed when interest arbitration was enforced. This added one year to the existing contract conditions. That time elapsed in 2011.
- RI Supreme Court decisions have upheld RI General Law regarding contract length. When the contract period is up the contract is over and no contract conditions exist.
- North Kingstown has a Home Rule Charter given by the State of Rhode Island which allows for the town to manage its affairs and allows the Town's elected and appointed officials to change the way it provides services to the community as they determine is in the community’s best interest. Once the contract had expired the town had the right to unilaterally determine how the fire department would operate.
- The town has made several offers to the firefighters during the last year which have gone unanswered. Among these include the return to the former work schedule. The firefighters have not responded to any of these offers to date. At some point you have to stop making offers that are not being considered and without any counter offers being presented.
- It was a foregone conclusion that Judge Stern would find for the firefighters since that was his earlier position. The Supreme Court, though, stayed Judge Stern's earlier decision last April. It was also a foregone conclusion that either side was going to object to an adverse decision and appeal to the Supreme Court.
- Given the current membership of the seven member RI State Labor Relations Board and the five members who voted on this matter, there was no doubt of the outcome. North Kingstown Town Council President Liz Dolan, a Management representative since 2000, did not participate in the matter and recused herself; Bruce A. Wolpert, a private attorney appointed as a member representing the Public, chose not to participate because he was appointed in the spring of 2013 after this case was initiated. The five SLRB members voting against the Town of North Kingstown were Chairman Walter Lanni, representing Management since 2000 (though a retired Cranston Fire Chief, he was a long term member of the Cranston fire union throughout his tenure); Marcia B. Reback, newly appointed to the Board as a Labor representative in the spring of 2013, Past President of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and a member of the Executive Board of the RI AFL-CIO; Scott G. Duhamel, also appointed as a Labor representative by Governor Chafee in the spring of 2013, a business representative of the International Union of Painters and an Executive Board member of the RI AFL-CIO; Gerald S. Goldstein, former Warwick City Councilman and member and Management/Local Government of the RISLRB since 1996; and long time Labor representative Frank J. Montanaro, Retired President of the RI AFL-CIO and Rhode Island Association of Firefighters.
- Several times over the last year there have been posts on the North Kingstown Patch proclaiming that the firefighters are underpaid and that the average pay is in the middle forties. It is public information available on the town website listing all of the pay and benefits that the firefighters receive. With 62 personnel and a pay/benefits budget of $6.9 million, the average firefighter cost the town over $100,000/year. We have an overtime cost of approximately $1.5 million because of excessive sick calls in which other firefighters take turns covering for each other.
- We have one of the most expensive cost per man in the State of Rhode Island. The real issue here is not the 24 hour shift which is common throughout the country. The real issue is money. The firefighters were offered to return to the former shift of four days on and four days off more than two years ago, and did not respond to the offer at all.
For the Town of North Kingstown and the taxpayers the
question is what are the management rights when it comes to operating our town? Is it the union’s right to
determine how we will provide services to our residents or the elected
officials? Is the town treasury an open pocket book for any union to demand
money from? What should the residents who pay these bills expect from the town
It would be easier to cave in to union demands rather than negotiate in good faith and protect the taxpayers from excessive contracts. Our position has been to protect the taxpayers pocketbook, to negotiate in good faith, to abide by long standing state law governing how we operate, and to use the Supreme Court rulings as our guide.
We are looking forward to the Supreme Court’s review of the issues and a favorable ruling based on the RI General Law and past Supreme Court decisions. Prior to any decision by the Supreme Court we remain ready to continue to meet with the union representatives to resolve the issues and to bargain in good faith.
It is our sincere hope that the Supreme Court will find that the very important issues raised in this case regarding management rights will be addressed this year, so that current and future elected officials have clarity about what our fiduciary duty to the taxpayers is as balanced with our obligation to negotiate contracts with public employees.
January 13, 2014
North Kingstown Town Council
President Elizabeth Dolan
Councilor Carol Hueston
Councilor Kevin Maloney
Councilor Kerry McKay
Councilor Richard Welch