Mediation ends, pension lawsuits heading to trial in fall
DAYS AFTER MEMBERS OF THE POLICE UNION rejected the negotiated settlement of public employee union lawsuits against pension reforms made in 2009, 2010 and 2011, throwing the entire deal into limbo, the state, led by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, has ended negotiations to try and solve the impasse.
PROVIDENCE – Court-ordered settlement talks between the state and Rhode Island public employees and retirees over cuts in pension benefits have broken down, sending the dispute to trial, both parties in the case said Friday.
In an early afternoon news release, representatives of the retiree and union plaintiffs challenging overhauls of the pension system said state attorneys had informed them of their intention to abandon mediation.
The announcement comes after police officers rejected a proposed settlement reached through mediation and unveiled in February that required each employee and retiree group to endorse it. The settlement would have retained most of the state’s recent pension system changes and benefit cuts.
After the results of the settlement vote, which the majority of employees and retirees accepted, Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter ordered the parties back into what turned out to be short-lived mediation
“The plaintiffs abided by the judge’s order to explore a path to a new settlement agreement, but the state decided it would rather pursue costly and drawn-out litigation rather than reach a reasonable agreement to guarantee stability and predictability to the pension system,” said Ray Sullivan, spokesman for the plaintiff groups. “We are now prepared to take the necessary steps in proceeding to trial.”
Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo released a statement calling the February settlement “fair” and pointing the finger at those who voted against it for prolonging the dispute.
“Due to a small group of union members the settlement agreement has failed and the mediation process has ended,” the statement said. “We find this disappointing and frustrating. While we are disappointed this settlement was not ultimately able to come to fruition, we continue to believe that the pension changes enacted by our General Assembly are constitutional, the State has strong legal arguments to support its positions and will begin to prepare for litigation.”
The court case encompasses employee and retiree challenges to the constitutionality of pension changes and benefit cuts in 2009, 2010 and the comprehensive 2011 retirement system overhaul.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in September.