Commission gives initial approval to new contracts for teachers, school, city employees

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EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence Budget Commission showed a little love to workers in the city during its bi-weekly meeting Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, as the state overseers gave initial approval to a series of contracts with teachers, school and some municipal employees.

The largest of the five contracts negotiated was between Budget Commission representative and Providence attorney Joseph Whelan and the East Providence Education Association (EPEA), the teachers’ union.

Going forward through fiscal and school year 2017-18, the teachers agreed to a maximum of three-percent raises each term with a minimum of one percent in the so-called “out” years of the deal.

The sides also settled nine pieces of litigation between the union and the city.

The teachers accepted a payment of $258,000 to end its legal wrangling dealing with the unilateral cuts the then City Council wrought upon them back in 2008. The teachers were seeking some $4 million in the suit. The second settlement amount of significance was $182,000 to teachers to make up the difference lost by those who get paid over 26 weeks as opposed to 20 weeks in the same time frame.

“We as a negotiating committee unanimously recommended this contract to our membership,” said EPEA President Valerie Lawson. “In light of the fiscal concerns of the community, we believe it is a fair deal for all sides.”

Mr. Whelan also forged agreements comprised of similar terms with the East Providence Professional, Managerial and Technical Employees Association, the United Steel Workers Locals 15509 and 15509A, the Educational Secretaries Association and the Teachers Assistant Association.

Mr. Whelan said the key differences between the pacts signed with the aforementioned unions and the teachers was the municipal and other school employees agreed to raises for the next three fiscals years based on the Social Security Consumer Price Index capped at two percent with no “floor” or guaranteed minimum increase.

Mr. Whelan noted the health insurance component of each deal reduces costs to the city in the range of 10 percent annually and follows an employee co-pay formula based closely to the one used at the state level.

In addition, the city’s Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability is greatly reduced. Going forward municipal employees will be eligible for just one year of healthcare upon leaving city employ instead of to the age of 65.

“We believe these terms are fair,” Mr. Whelan added. “Hopefully this clears the slate and leads to better relationships between the city and its employees going forward.”

The news wasn’t so rosy Thursday on the negotiating front between Mr. Whelan, the Commission, the East Providence Police union and another group of municipal workers.

Local representatives of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO) Local 569 and the Rhode Island Council 94, AFSCME, AFL-CIO have yet to come to terms.

Mr. Whelan said while there is significant agreement on several issues, the OPEB, particularly with the police, remains a sticking point.

IBPO Local 569 are at odds slightly about the Commission’s attempt to change the benefits package, which currently allows cops to retire as early as 42-years-old and receive family health insurance until the age of 65 at no cost to them, 100-percent paid for by the city.

“We have work to do here because historically both locally and elsewhere there’s been a distinction made between police and fireman and the rest of the workforce on this matter,” Mr. Whelan said.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Commission is expected to give second-and-final approval for and implementation of the contracts negotiated at its next meeting Thursday, Feb. 28, in Room 306 of City Hall at 3 p.m.

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