Rep. Joseph Solomon Jr. said yesterday he made up his own mind when he voted Tuesday in favor of two pieces of legislation that his father, Mayor Joseph Solomon, opposed and said would limit the city’s ability to negotiate contracts with the firefighters’ union.
Rep. Solomon had lots of company, including all his Warwick Democratic colleagues in the House in approving bills that would remove overtime exemptions for firefighters unless they are paid at time and a half for hours worked in excess of 42 hours. If approved by the Senate and signed into law, the legislation would supersede the federal threshold of 53 hours for firefighters.
"I made the decision based on what I thought was best," Rep. Solomon said yesterday. He explained his decision involved balancing the needs of the district and the hours public safety employees put in.
Mayor Solomon could not be reached for comment following the vote, but in a letter to Rep. Anastasia Williams when the bills were under consideration of the House Labor Committee, he wrote, “It is clear that passage of H5662 and H 5663 would only cause fire costs to skyrocket further, ultimately costing the City of Warwick and communities across the state far more than that which is already included in robust fire budgets and placing them in a financial state that is simply not sustainable in the long run.”
Solomon prefaced his position saying Warwick “is already facing a very difficult financial situation” consisting of a $7.4 million projected deficit in the current budget and a shortfall that could reach $18 million next year.
The mayor’s position and that of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns is that the legislation would limit the ability of municipalities to negotiate a contract. Warwick firefighters and the city failed to reach an agreement last year and firefighters have been without a contract since July 1, 2018. The matter is now in interest arbitration.
Rep. Solomon doesn’t see the legislation as restricting his father’s ability to strike a fair deal with firefighters.
"At the end of the day, I know my father can negotiate a contract,” he said. “I have the utmost confidence in my father to negotiate a fair contract at the end of the day.”
A deciding factor for Rep. Solomon is that the legislation would effectively make it impractical to have three-platoon systems where firefighters work 56-hour shifts.
"You can be woken up in the middle of the night...I'm not a firefighter so I can't really speak to that...On some occasions there might be down time but other times there might not be down time," he said.
"I think it just changes the negotiations at the end of the day. It might change the strategy. I'm confident that the two sides will figure something out, and I believe everybody will have the best interest of the citizens of Warwick in mind when they do so," he said.
How might his vote affect the relationship between father and son?
"We'll probably have a nice conversation over Easter dinner,” Rep. Solomon said.
(With reports from Ethan Hartley)