Raimondo enacts continuing contracts and firefighter overtime bills

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Gina M. Raimondo made two pieces of controversial legislation law Tuesday morning, one with her signature, the other without, the governor’s office announced Tuesday.

Both bills, related to continuing labor contracts and firefighter overtime, had been opposed by the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. Both were sent to the Secretary of State to be enacted as laws.

The law that Raimondo signed into law, “An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Arbitration – Continuance of Contractual Provisions,” keeps collective bargaining agreements in place when municipalities and workers are engaged in negotiations or utilizing the state-required dispute resolution process. If the two parties cannot reach an agreement in nonbinding arbitration, wage and benefit agreements related to the collective bargaining, except for contractual provisions that limit layoffs, remain in place.

Raimondo vetoed a similar set of bills (passed by both the R.I. House and Senate) in 2017, arguing that the previous version “went too far in automatically extending all provisions in collective bargaining agreements,” which she said would have taken away negotiating tools from municipal leaders at the bargaining table.

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“The bill that I sign today represents a middle ground,” Raimondo wrote in her letters to both chambers of the General Assembly.

Raimondo noted that towns’ and cities’ concerns from the 2017 bill had been addressed in the new bill.

“Protecting individual’s wage and benefits from being unilaterally cut after a contract expires is fair to workers. But it also means that workers would not receive future wage increases without remaining at the bargaining table. It also does not bind cities and towns to any other provisions of the expired contract.”

“Honoring wages and benefits in an expired contract is standard practice in the private sector and in other states,” Raimondo continued. “Moreover, this bill does not make us an outlier, as our neighboring states have statutory labor protection that go even further than this bill, including binding arbitration for teachers in Massachusetts and Connecticut.”

The firefighter overtime bills transmitted Tuesday require firefighters to be paid overtime after 84 hours of work over a two-week period, compared with the federal standard of overtime after 106 hours in two weeks.

“Because the firefighter bills have no material impact on the status quo for any fire department and will only impact two departments in future years, the governor does not consider them a substantial change over current policy and transmitted them without her signature,” Governor’s Office Press Secretary Josh Block told PBN.

Following the announcement of Raimondo’s transmission of the bills to the Secretary of State, the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns panned the decision.

“The General Assembly has already stacked the deck against cities and towns with longstanding unfunded mandates such as binding arbitration, unreasonable disability pensions and more,” Brian Daniels, executive director of RILCT said in a statement. “These new bills only make it harder for municipal leaders to negotiate contracts and make decisions in the best interests of the taxpayers. Rhode Islanders will come to regret today’s decision by the governor, with property taxpayers living with the negative impacts long after she has left office.”

Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor. You may reach him at Bergenheim@PBN.com.