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Cranston Unions Have Upper Hand in Pension Reform

Unions opt out of pension settlement deal but can still reap its rewards if they lose their legal fight.

The Cranston police and firefighters unions opted out of the pension reform deal announced by state leaders last week, which means they can look for a better deal somewhere else.

But Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung said on Tuesday that if the unions are unable to get better terms in court or through another route, they'll still reap the rewards of the pension settlement, which boils down to a 5 percent giveback to retirees in the state-run Municipal Employee Retirement System.

That means Cranston's unions have nothing to lose by trying to do better than the proposed settlement. The settlement now faces approval in the General Assembly and many mayors and town administrators, fuming over being left out the of closed-door negotiations, are pledging to ask local delegations to vote it down.

Joseph Rodio Sr., the lawyer for the two unions—the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 301 and the International Association of Firefighters Local 1363—declined comment for this story.

Fung, briefed on the settlement with other municipal leaders yesterday, said he learned of the provision that gives the Cranston unions power to continue challenging the original 2011 pension reform law without giving up the benefits in the settlement and said it was "utterly disappointing."

"Basically, they get the deal even if the pursue the case and lose," Fung said.

The city administration met with the City Council in an executive session meeting recently to talk about the settlement's impact on the city. 

Fung couldn't reveal what transpired during that meeting, nor would he say if he's had any discussions with the unions since the reform deal was announced. 

In a statement, Paul Valletta Jr., the firefighter union's president, said that Cranston's public safety unions "along with a majority of retirees, recently made changes in the city's private pension plan, resulting in $6 million in immediate savings."

"We'd appreciate the same opportunity to sit down and negotiate a fair pension for our MERS members while keeping in mind there must be an overall savings to the city," Valletta said.

City Council President John E. Lanni Jr. said the mayor is "caught between a rock and a hard place" because he wasn't included in any discussions leading up to the pension settlement. 

"All they did is present a big bill that the taxpayers of this city will have to come up with," Lanni said. "Cranston is one of the higher taxed communities and we're trying to keep the tax rate as low as possible and to get hit with this — it's kind of like a back door move and just so untransparent."

Fung said he will continue to object to the settlement and will be urging local legislators in the Cranston delegation to not support it.

"It's going to have significant impact on 2015 to the tune of about a million dollars," Fung said.
Bob February 19, 2014 at 11:03 AM
Earth to John Lanni, did you expect Valletta and his ilk to come through the front door ? ...if so it's time you head for the door....as in out !!!!!
Neil February 19, 2014 at 11:38 AM
You gotta love the headline - Cranston Unions Have Upper Hand. Of course they do, as the fire department has the best contract in the state and the Mayor was all to happy to give the police union the same advantage. Meanwhile my taxes go up, I am now going to pay trash fees too. No doubt the $500,000 surplus is gone to snow removal and now the school department wants a big increase. Yes I sense another tax increase is coming no matter what. Of course the unions have the upper hand in Cranston, they always have. That's why they donate heavily to Mayor Fung.
Bob February 19, 2014 at 04:37 PM
Spot on @neil..spot on... and he's running for Gov on our dime.....
PMarandola February 19, 2014 at 10:14 PM
@Neil A+ Vote No to FUNG
I_Like_EG February 20, 2014 at 07:08 AM
Unreal. Maybe we should zero bid a private contract for fire services and save millions in taxes?!?! Time for FD and PD to start paying their fair share this isn't a give away. Always want to get more and do less. How about they contribute 25% of their healthcare like most other people do! Start saving there. What's this about paying for trash pickup ? Are you kidding me. With all the taxes we pay!?!? I would be ok with socialism if I had free healthcare and free higher education but we don't, we pay an arm and a leg for both it's bankrupting people. Fire and police want more from us they should do more and start showing citizens respect instead of thinking they are god like characters. I did like dung until this contract garbage came about...
Rebel Pilot February 28, 2014 at 08:42 AM
@I_like_eg, How about some consequences for the politicians that raided the pension funds years ago? If they had funded it as they were supposed to and not raided it, there would be NO unfunded liability. You talk about respect.. Lets show some respect for the people who put their lives on the line so most of you don't can live safely in this state. Do you think that fire/ems personnel do not respect you when they show up at your emergency? Do you think police personnel will not show you respect when you call for your assistance? How about this.. How about the State of Rhode Island create a Bill that would allow "taxpayers," (I use that term lightly) to opt out of Public Safety Services. You would be able to sign yourself to a Will Not Call List, making you ineligible for the services that Fire/EMS/Police provide. You in turn will not have to pay for the services they provide. You will be required to put out your own fires, extract your own family members from a car wreck, resuscitate your own loved ones as they begin to fade away, investigate the crimes you fall victim of and protect yourself from being a victim. You will be required to do this while adhering to all criminal and traffic laws, because if you choose to opt out, the police will still be required to enforce those laws for the people that choose to stay protected. Lets not forget that while doing all of the above you will be attacked, ridiculed, second guessed and in some cases photographed and videotaped on the off chance that someone who lacks the understand of what you are doing chooses to monday morning quarterback your actions. @Bob, re-read Lanni's statement. He says that the Mayor is stuck because he was NOT included in the pension settlement that was created by COURT ORDERED mediation between the State and Unions. @Neil The media reports the housing market is up, feel free to test the market and then you can move to EG too

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