Contracts Creating Massive Liability for Cranston

I spoke with Allan Fung yesterday about Cranston’s finances and the 3-year contract signed for the firefighters. He told me that both the Projo and the Cranston Herald did not print his letter, which I provide in full below.

Even though they like to complain about me at Anchorrising for being some kind of vampire who wants to suck on a bottomless pit of taxpayer resources, nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m a home-owning taxpayer in Cranston and it worries me greatly when we enter into contracts that open the city up for massive financial liability. This is why I am concerned with the provisions of the new firefighter’s contracts, particularly the compounding effects of the 2% raises every six month, and with the open season being created for disability pension applications, if one’s cancer does not need to be related to one’s work.

But I will let Allan Fung, who is much more knowledgeable and experienced in Cranston’s local government (he was on the city council for four years and ran for Mayor of Cranston, losing by only a handful of votes) explain why this is not a good contract.

I am writing in response to the recent Providence Journal article where Cranston Mayor Michael Napolitano touts the tentative agreement with the firefighters union as fair, affordable and one that would save the city money. After reviewing the tentative agreement, I must disagree and urge the City Council not to ratify this agreement. This contract is full of smoke and mirrors and returns our city to the same old fiscal ways of doing business that got us into financial trouble in the first place.

This contract provides minimal short-term cash savings (those highlighted by Mayor Napolitano in salary, health insurance and holidays) in exchange for huge burdens on taxpayers in the future. If this contract had the same savings that the Laffey administration had negotiated in the agreements with the police, teamsters and laborers, I would have given Mayor Napolitano his due and applauded his efforts. But, it doesn’t and, in my opinion, this contract will hurt Cranston over the long term.

Under the new proposed contract, firefighters will receive generous guaranteed increases in salary (2% every six months) and longevity (on July 1, 2007 and 2009). What I find particularly egregious with the 2% every six months salary increase is that Mayor Napolitano forces the financial ramifications of one of those increases, which occurs on the last day of the 2010 fiscal year, into the 2011 budget. Thus, the taxpayers will continue to realize a financial hit for another year after a purported three year contract has expired. What a way to hide a raise in a budget! I thought I had seen it all until this and I am not even sure if this is legal as state law only allows contracts to be for three years.

Although getting the firefighters to pay a co-share is a start, I find it difficult to support a contract which has our firefighters paying less than our police officers and other city employees for their health insurance co-share and that they will receive free health care when they retire (remember the firefighters can retire after only twenty years of service). The free health care for retirees is problematic as it will continue to increase our post employment benefits costs — another unfunded burden that taxpayers must face.

Also, this contract unwinds two hard-fought decisions that former labor attorney Vincent Ragosta won for the city in arbitration, which is not an easy task. First, the contract grants firefighters a “conclusive presumptionâ€? of disability if they get cancer while employed by the City of Cranston. This new language will make it extremely easy for a firefighter to get a disability pension even if he/she develops cancer from personal lifestyle decisions, such as smoking, that is unrelated to his/her job. Union leader Paul Valletta’s statement in the article that this provision is consistent with state law is simply not true. If that were so, why did the City successfully win this point in both arbitration and in Superior Court? Also, the contract gives health coverage to firefighter “trainees” before they actually become a full fledged firefighter, which is in direct contradiction of an arbitrator’s decision. I cannot fathom why the City would ever give up two hard-fought decisions with substantial financial implications to the taxpayers in this manner.

The proposed contract increases the minimum manning requirement and changes the wording from manning to staffing. At first blush, this may appear to be a simple word change, but as a lawyer, I know that words have meanings and this change will likely be interpreted to require the city to hire more firefighters, thereby depriving it of flexibility in staffing. We already have more firefighters than police officers, a fact that was criticized during a past performance audit of our police and fire departments, and we are increasing this number. How does this make sense?

Finally, I still cannot support the fact that our firefighters, who were not in New York City during September 11, maintain this day as a holiday when the true heroes in New York City do not.

The taxpayers will continue to get hit financially in the long run in this contract. I sincerely hope that the City Council will see through the smoke and mirrors and not ratify this contract. They need to send the administration back to the bargaining table to get a good contract that really benefits the taxpayers.

This contract passed the city council 8-1, with only council president Aram Garabedian dissenting.

We need to wonder why both The Cranston Herald and the Projo did not publish this letter.

UPDATE: The Cranston Herald did publish Fung’s letter as an opinion editorial on July 12, 2007, nine days after the contract was ratified on July 3, 2007.

11 thoughts on “Contracts Creating Massive Liability for Cranston

  1. Maybe because Fung’s real problem isn’t with the details of the contract but with the fact that there is a contract at all.

  2. I am confused by the ProJo story. Exactly how many 2 percent raises are there and over what period of time?

    And if a firefighter gets prostate cancer, is that presumed to be work related under the new contract?

  3. I believe so, but perhaps one of our councilpersons can explain further the extent of coverage this contract provides.

    What Allan Fung explained to me was that the contract contains a clause for “conclusive presumption” on cancer illnesses, which means it can’t be rebutted as non-work related.

  4. Nice work Kiersten, I linked to it as part of a post over at AR. If nothing else, I hope the last week has shown that there is some common ground on which ideological opposites can stand.

  5. When Allan Fung ran, part of his message was that Napolitano would be a return to the dark days of the O’Leary administration. Nappy vehemently refuted this. Guess what? Allan was right. O’Leary and the Council at the time pushed through some expensive contracts that the taxpayers bore the brunt of in 2003, 2004, etc.

    Nappy seems to be pulling plays from the same book now!

  6. Napolitano rolled over and played dead.

    Does anyone remember the Buracker Report? The one that shows we have TWICE the number of firefighters than other cities our size. The one that recommended a force reduction of 45? The one that reported that they had NEVER seen an all white-male department. EVER

    No wonder Valetta wouldn’t let his guys cooperate with the study. He knows the score.

    Anyway, we not only got hosed by Napolitano on the cancer deal, the end of fiscal period giveaways, but even moreso because he should have pushed for a department reorganization and resizing.

    I’ve spoken with this man on several occasions. He is really a dullard. Cranston had just too many morons who voted for Napolitano because they hated George Bush.

    BTW: I emailed every member of the city council at least 4 times on the fire contract issue. Replies received: 0

  7. I do remember the Buracker report. That was the first thing I thought of, too.

    What I want to know: Only Garabedian voted against? That means the Barone voted for the contract? Wasn’t he a Laffey-ite? So much for his principles, I guess. What’s up with that?

    As for Marc from AR, this is not an ideological issue, in the usual sense of the word. This is an insider vs outsider issue, which is the real hidden agenda in RI politics. As such, we can bury the partisan hatchet and stand against this sort of thing. What we need is some sort of non-ideological reform party. Pie-in-the-sky, I realize, but every reform movement is born in a certain naive optimism.

  8. What #%&* is this about? That cancer clause is wrong along with the holiday pay. Our council clearly has special interests — thank you Aram for voting the right way on behalf of the taxpayers. I haven’t spoken to anyone in my Ward that thinks this was a good deal.

  9. Basically, I agree the contract is problematic.

    I hate to keep repeating myself, but these contracts are unsustainable only because of the cuts in federal taxes, and the fact that the median wage has not increased in more than a generation.

    It seems outrageous when public employees get 4 or 5% raises. But those numbers are only just a bit ahead of the inflation rate. Time was that private-sector workers got similar increases. If that were to happen again, then giving these levels of increase to public employees would not be nearly so devastating to taxpayers.

    Much of the blame for the problems we face can be laid squarely at the feet of Ronald Reagan, and his tax-cuts-at-any-price progeny.

    The solution, that many Republicans advocate is to push everyone down into the mire of subsistence wages. The real solution is to advocate for increases to the median wage, so we can all benefit. As it is, only those at the very pinnacle of the wage scale have collected the rewards of the prodigious increase in productivity that has occurred over the last 30 years.

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