PROVIDENCE – Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter ordered state and public employee union representatives back into mediation on Monday after 61 percent of eligible police officers and retirees voted to reject the proposed settlement of the state’s pension lawsuit.
Of the 23,624 state and municipal employees, teachers, firefighters and police officers who were eligible to participate in the vote to decide whether the settlement should move forward, 6,755 returned their ballots before the April 3 deadline, according to unaudited results. Qualified ballots that were not returned before the deadline were counted as votes consenting that the settlement move forward.
Overall, roughly 29 percent of eligible public employees voted to reject the settlement. Of the six different groups participating in the vote, the police unions were the only group in which a majority opposed the settlement. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the settlement process should have ended if more than 50 percent of any one of the plaintiff groups voted to reject.
Ray Sullivan, the attorney representing the unions in the lawsuit, said Taft-Carter elected to order both sides back into federally mediated talks to explore whether a settlement can still be reached and a trial avoided, given that the 417 police officers eligible to cast ballots represented only 1.8 percent of the 23,624 total voter pool.
“Our goal was to seek the collective opinion of the members,” said Sullivan. “The numbers speak for themselves. Roughly 70 percent of those individuals who are eligible to vote did not reject the agreement.”
Taft-Carter in court on Monday emphasized that the previously determined trial date of Sept. 15, 2014, remains for the state pension reform lawsuits if the parties have not resolved their differences by then.
“As in any other civil case, the court encourages the parties to settle their own disputes before trial,” court spokesman Craig N. Berke said. “If that is not possible, the court stands ready to adjudicate the case.”
The two parties will resume mediation Monday afternoon, Sullivan said, and have been ordered to report back to the judge by Monday, April 14.
The unaudited results of the first round of voting were as follows:
Responding to the judge’s decision to renew mediation talks, the offices of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and R.I. General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo issued the following joint statement:
“For over a year the governor and treasurer participated in good faith in court-ordered mediation leading up to the Feb. 14 settlement agreement. This morning, in court, we learned the results of the first round of voting from the plaintiffs. The court has ordered all parties back into mediation. The state will continue to participate in this court-ordered mediation.”