Instead, city lawyers and lawyers for the City Council have reportedly intervened and scheduled a special City Council executive session meeting today to address the contract's status because of questions about whether the committee, which is primarily an advisory board to the full council, really can squash a contract, Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung said today. And the contract could end up with a final vote before the full council after all, city officials said.
The contract would cost the city an additional $454,000 before it's over, according to the city's most-recent cost-analysis — a relatively modest increase for an approximately $8.5 million contract, but council members on the Finance Committee who voted it down took issue with the inclusion of raises for 33 ranking members of the department (sergeants, lieutenants and captains), among other issues.
Union officials say ranking members are among the lowest-paid in the state and make upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 less than their counterparts in Warwick and even here in Cranston when compared to ranking members of the fire department.
Voting against the contract were Councilmen John E. Lanni Jr., Steve Stycos, Paul Archetto and Councilwoman Sarah Lee. Councilmen Mike Farina, Mario Aceto and Don Botts voted against the motion to reject the contract.
For Mayor Fung and Union President Capt. Stephen Antonucci, the vote was major setback after 18 months of negotiations that included 30 meetings 100 hours of back-and-forth dialog and nobody expected it to die in committee. The contract was approved by the union in a 2 to 1 ratio, Antonucci said. (An earlier version of this story inaccurately portrayed the union vote as having a narrow margin).
Antonucci, in an interview, said he thinks it's wrong for the seven-member Finance Committee to shoot the contract down since it deprived voters in Wards 5 and 6 from having their voices fully heard. The full council has nine members.
"It's essentially allowing the Finance Committee to have more power than the City Council," Antonucci said.
Although salaries increase by more than $900,000 with raises at 2, 2.5 and 3 percent for rank-and-file members consecutively beginning in 2014, much of the increase is offset with increases in medical insurance cost sharing and the introduction of employee contributions to other post employment benefits (OPEB).
The larger salary adjustments for ranking members is about fairness, Antonucci said.
In Cranston, he said, a lieutenant makes $61,534 while in Narragansett, the same job nets $74,694 In Warwick, the salary is $78,639. For a Fire Department Captain in Cranston, which is an equivalent rank, the pay is $75,282.
"We need to be competitive, we shouldn't be the lowest," Antonucci said. "We're the third largest city in the state — we should pay our employees accordingly."
Union members have been working without a contract since 2012 and in the last contract, they took two 0-percent pay raises and gave back $2.7 million in concession to help the city, Antonucci said.
"The city is on firmer financial ground," he said. "Maybe it's time to try and make up for some of the things in the past."
Tweets from the IPBO 301 Twitter account the night of the vote revealed the frustration of union members:
- "Cranston City Councilmen, Lee, Lanni, & Stycos told us we were appreciated, but showed us otherwise. We would rather be showed than told
- Nothing worse than being told how much your appreciated by people who don't really mean it. Would rather hear nothing at all. #Stykos
- TY to @MayorFung for recognizing such a lg. pay disparity 'tween CFD and CPD SHOULDN'T exist & trying 2 fix it & still getting give backs
Lopez said lawyers for both the city and the City Council agree that union contracts require full council approval, according to the city charter. As a result, the Finance Committee may be obliged to send it to the council with either a positive or negative recommendation. It would then be up to the full council for final approval.