With municipal leaders opposing ‘perpetual contract’ bill, Mayor Elorza staying on sidelines

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The mayor of Rhode Island’s largest city is taking no position on state legislation that would keep municipal union contracts in force indefinitely if a new contract has not been reached, even as many other municipal leaders are urging lawmakers to reject the bill.

Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, confirmed Wednesday Elorza is not joining with the mayors of Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket, Johnston and North Providence in opposition of the bill, which is viewed as beneficial for public employee unions.

Crowell did not say why Elorza is staying out of the discussion.

The bill – sponsored by Democratic Reps. Camille Vella-Wilkinson (Warwick), Robert Jacquard (Cranston) and Moira Walsh (Providence) – would amend state law on labor contracts for teachers and municipal workers by adding the words: “All contractual provisions contained in a collective bargaining agreement … shall continue until such time as a successor agreement has been reached between the parties.”

The legislation was approved by the House Labor Committee on June 21. It has not been scheduled for a vote in the full house. The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey of Warwick. It has not been approved by the Senate Labor Committee.

A group of mayors, town administrators and the executive director of the R.I. League of Cities and Towns have called a press conference for 11 a.m. Thursday at Warwick City Hall to discuss their opposition toward the bill.

A radio advertisement paid for by the League of Cities and Towns is urging the public to tell their lawmakers to block “sweetheart deals that go on forever.”

“It’s great for the unions, but we’ve just had enough,” the ad says.

But labor leaders have argued the bill protects unions against municipalities that refuse to negotiate. In a message posted to Facebook last week, Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Reynolds-Calabro noted that teachers do not have binding arbitration.

“We often come to the table ready to bargain in good faith and are held hostage by management’s inability and sometimes unwillingness to bargain in good faith,” she wrote.

Elorza’s decision to not take a position on the bill is somewhat surprising considering that municipal leaders across the state went to bat for him when fire union leaders were advocating for legislation that would have required municipalities to pay time-and-a-half rates to all public safety workers who worked more than 42 hours in a week. The bill never came to a vote in either chamber.

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