Providence fire contract advances without council panel’s support

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence’s firefighters are one step closer to having a new contract, but the City Council still isn’t thrilled with the deal.

The City Council Finance Committee on Monday refused to endorse the Elorza administration’s proposed five-year agreement with the firefighters’ union, but it allowed the deal to advance to the full council for a vote early next month.

In declining to fully support the contract, committee Chairman John Igliozzi said the administration has been “not as cooperative as it should have been” during the lengthy vetting process. He said the “lack of financial accuracy” from the mayor’s office forced the council to develop its own fiscal note on the deal.

“Basically its a five-year contract, a precedent-setting contract and although it has savings, it doesn’t have the savings administrations claimed,” Igliozzi said prior to the vote. He accused the the mayor’s office of creating a problem by overhauling the fire department in 2015 and “now they’re looking for a life preserver.”

Under the terms of the agreement, firefighters will return to working an average of 42 hours per week across four platoons after spending more than a year in a three-platoon system that required them to work an average of 56 hours per week. In exchange, the union agreed to reduce the city’s minimum manning require from 94 firefighters at all times to 88 firefighters.

The administration has claimed the deal could save the city between $15 million and $20 million over the next five years, but internal auditor Matt Clarkin said he believes the actual savings will be between $6.8 million and $9 million. Igliozzi has said he considers Clarkin’s fiscal note the most realistic review of the contract.

During a short public hearing prior to Monday’s vote, union President Paul Doughty thanked the committee for its “extraordinary vetting process,” calling it the most thorough review he’s seen in 30 years as a city employee. (Doughty has been publicly critical of the council for not approving the deal sooner.)

Administration officials have acknowledged that the deal doesn’t include any potential back wages it may owe the firefighters for a 14-hour increase to their average work week over the last year, but they have said the reduction in minimum manning and a requirement for new retirees to contribute toward their healthcare will still result in savings.

The City Council is expected to take up the proposed contract at a meeting on Jan. 5.

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Dan McGowan ( ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan