Walsh: Settlement is ‘heart wrenching’ for many impacted

Retirees arrive at Twin River Casino ahead of the pension overhaul vote. (Ted Nesi/WPRI)

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – While teacher’s union leader Robert Walsh says the settlement was in the best interest of all parties involved, it was “heart wrenching” for many of his members.

Walsh – the Executive Director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) – said, however, he did not think the settlement was a loss for unions. On Thursday Governor Gina Raimondo said more than 90 percent of the original pension reform law remained intact.

“Our members took a substantial financial hit,” Walsh said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “It impacted the lives of retirees, it impacted the lives of active workers and it feels like a loss in that sense, there is no denying that.”

In an internal memo obtained by Eyewitness News prior to the settlement votes, Walsh made the case for approving the pension proposal. In essence, telling his members that there would be no outcome in which all of the pension benefits would be restored to what they were prior to the 2011 reform.

“This is a tough thing and for our members specifically it’s doubly hard because they are so used to the contract being sacrosanct,” Walsh said. “The very concept the government can take your stuff, is hard for people to get their arms around.”

Despite that Walsh said 4,033 of roughly 7,000 NEARI members voted resulting in a 73 percent approval for the settlement.

The proposal will eventually make its way to the General Assembly which will decide to approve or reject the settlement, a judge will then have final say.

Walsh said the challenge they are facing now is educating active workers and retirees about how the changes are impacting their benefits.

“I absolutely know there are folks who have not availed themselves to the information that is out there.” Walsh said. “I know we have a heck of a challenge to educate folks about what they have, what the changes were and how to prepare for retirement in these new realities.”

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

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