A tentative deal has been struck between the City of Warwick and the Warwick Fire Department, which had been without a renewed collective bargaining agreement since its last contract expired on July 1, 2018.
Mayor Joseph Solomon's office released some details of the new deal, which will have to be approved by the Warwick City Council, in a press release on Thursday night.
The major highlights include: The establishment of the city's first ever OPEB (other post-employment benefits) trust fund, which is to be funded through a 2 percent contribution by employees hired after July 1, 2019; a 0-2-2 percent raise structure over the three-year deal; a reduction in sick, vacation and personal days for all firefighters; and a resolution to the Tier 1/Tier 2 pension issue.
According to the release, the raise structure will be mitigated by the reduction in days off, resulting in a cost-neutral contract throughout its lifetime.
The release in full is below:
"Mayor Joseph J. Solomon announced today that he has reached a tentative agreement with the Warwick Firefighters’ Union membership on a three-year, cost-neutral contract that will save the city over $450,000 in the first year while establishing the first-of-its-kind OPEB trust that reduces retiree health care costs for new hires by 27 percent. The contract also reduces time off, increases management rights, and resolves the former Tier II pension and sick time payout issues.
“I thank the union membership for working with me and my administration to come to an agreement that is fair to our firefighters and addresses a great number of taxpayers’ concerns,” the Mayor said. “With the first-of-its-kind OPEB trust, this contract creates a template to forge a new way forward in helping to manage retirement benefit costs in the future.”
The contract, which spans from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022, includes no raise in this fiscal year and 2 percent raises in years two and three. The contract will save the city over $450,000 in the first year, and, over the full three years, cost reductions will completely offset the wage increases, resulting in a cost-neutral contract.
All employees hired after July 1, 2019 will contribute, in addition to current co-shares for health insurance, an additional 2 percent of their pay to an OPEB trust, which will be used to contribute to their healthcare costs in retirement. According to the city’s actuary, this additional contribution to the OPEB fund will reduce the city’s contribution toward retiree healthcare for new hires by 27 percent, Solomon said.
In addition, firefighters will have seven fewer days off per year pertaining to sick days, personal days and holidays, Solomon said.
The reduction of four sick days is expected to save the city over $170,000 per year, and the elimination of one holiday is expected to save the city over $80,000 annually. Elimination of two personal days is projected to save the city almost $200,000 per year. The contract also includes implementation of a 24-hour shift schedule, which should lead to decreased overtime costs.
Further, new hires will be on a lower pay scale for four years instead of two years before they achieve the top step.
Solomon also noted that several outstanding issues associated with prior contracts have been addressed in the new pact. This contract implements the Tier II pension reform that the previous contracts failed to include. He said this contract corrects the issue of unused sick time payout, which will now be paid annually instead of monthly, eliminating the practice that had been established under a so-called “side agreement,” whereby firefighters had been paid for a portion of their unused sick leave and allowed to carry over the remaining portion until the end of the year.
The tentative agreement will now be submitted to the City Council for ratification. Council ratification of contracts was a legislative initiative spearheaded by Mayor Solomon when he was Council President in order to increase transparency in government."
The Beacon will update with additional information in its print edition on Tuesday.