Polisena urges Governor to veto evergreen contracts bill

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Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena has joined the chorus of city and town leaders who have called for Gov. Gina Raimondo to veto the evergreen contracts bill.

Under the legislation that was introduced in the House by Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson of Warwick and Warwick Senator and Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey in the Senate, terms of expired municipal contracts would remain in place until a new agreement is reached.

Prior to the House vote on the bill, the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns and more than a dozen mayors and town administrators gathered at Warwick City Hall to voice opposition to the measure.

“The evergreen clause is just a deceiving name, it should be called the lifetime contract clause,” Polisena said to the Sun Rise on Wednesday. “I’m vehemently opposed to it. It’s unfortunate that our Senator voted for it when he told me he wouldn’t vote for it, and I’m very, very disappointed. It’s just a bad piece of legislation, it puts the taxpayer at a huge disadvantage because we have to negotiate for the taxpayer. I’ve never seen a piece of legislation so bad in all my life.”

Mayor Scott Avedisian is also calling for Gov. Raimondo to veto what has been labeled the “evergreen contract” legislation approved by the House and the Senate.

In a July 3 letter to Raimondo, Avedisian expanded on statements made at the Warwick press conference.

“The expiration date of collective bargaining agreements is an important component of contract negotiations. It motivates the parties to come together and resolve their issues prior to the close of the contract. If for some reason, the parties do not complete negotiations prior to the contract expiration; they should be able to extend contracts temporarily if both parties agree. In the vast majority of cases in Rhode Island, the parties do agree to continue their contract terms until they can complete negotiations. For that reason alone, this legislation is unnecessary,” he writes.

While similar legislation has been introduced in prior sessions, it has never reached the governor’s desk, according to legislators. This year, however, it appears to be motivated by the prolonged Warwick Teacher and School Committee contract dispute and the committee’s challenge of adhering to terms of the former contract. With the consolidation of secondary schools, the committee laid off more than the 20 teachers allowable under the expired contract. It also did away with a weighting system designed to reduce class size based on the number of special education students in the class.

The union based its argument that terms of the prior contract applied on a State Labor Relations Board ruling. The School Committee challenged that finding in Superior Court, winning the right to lay off the teachers because of declining enrollment.

Avedisian offered no opinion on how the governor will react to the pleas of mayors and municipal administrators or, for that matter, whether the General Assembly would override a veto should she take that course.

At this point, he doubts the bill has been transmitted to the governor.

Addressing the issue of prolonged contract disputes, Avedisian said in his letter, “I also would favor a review of negotiations to include penalties for both sides if contract negotiation and/or ratification are not done in a timely manner. Too often, the negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes take too long and leave communities in a dire financial position and declining morale.”

(This story contains a report from Tim Forsberg, editor of the Johnston Sun Rise.)

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