RI unions get set to meet, vote on pension settlement deal

J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94, Rhode Island’s largest public-employees union, sent an email to his members Thursday laying out what happens next in the pension settlement process.

Downey reports that every eligible worker or retiree “will soon receive a mail ballot” allowing them to vote on whether to proceed with the settlement, though he didn’t provide any specific dates or deadlines. There are six blocs of voters, including state workers and teachers, and if more than 50% of members of any of the six blocs vote against the settlement, it’s off.

“Consistent with class action litigation, members who accept the proposed settlement are not required to take any action, as unreturned ballots shall be considered as agreeing with the settlement,” Downey also notes – meaning anyone who doesn’t return a ballot will be counted as a “yes” vote on the settlement.

Here’s the full text of Downey’s email (emphasis mine):

There’s been much conjecture about the details of the proposed settlement agreement regarding our legal challenge to the changes made to the pension system and I wanted to send along a quick note letting you know that we’re working to provide members with the information they need to make an informed decision.

Tomorrow, a first round of informational meetings will be posted at www.ripensioninfo.org. I invite you to find a time and location that’s convenient to learn more about the details of the settlement.

The bottom line is that you, as an impacted member, who is eligible to vote, will have the initial say in determining if we move forward with forming a class action for the purpose of settlement.

The balloting process is consistent with how class action lawsuits are settled. Every eligible member will soon receive a mail ballot, that includes prepaid return postage. Mail balloting ensures that every affected member will have an equal opportunity to participate. Consistent with class action litigation, members who accept the proposed settlement are not required to take any action, as unreturned ballots shall be considered as agreeing with the settlement.

If more than 50 percent of the members of any voting block disapprove of the agreement, the litigation would continue. There will be a second round of voting if class action is approved by the Court. Finally, in addition to the two rounds of voting, the Court will conduct fairness hearings at which any class member is entitled to be heard and can raise objections to the terms of the settlement or the voting process.

The balloting process will be conducted by an independent, non-profit company. The same company will tally the ballots and report the results to the Court.

We’ve worked hard to not only increase some of the benefits members lost through previous years’ legislation, but also lay out a transparent mechanism that gives everyone the chance to have their voice heard and respected.

I am supporting this agreement because I believe it is in our collective best interest. In addition to improving some benefits, it offers immediate certainty and stability to allow members to plan for the future.

In Solidarity,

J. Michael Downey, president
Rhode Island Council 94

Do you have questions about the pension settlement and the voting process? Leave them in comments.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

• Related: 10 ways to look at the proposed RI pension settlement (Feb. 20)

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