March 31, 2009
Councilman Emilio Navarro on the Cranston Police Contract
Readers may be aware that I have been somewhat critical of the Cranston City Council's tabling of the police union contract recently negotiated by Mayor Allan Fung. Since I believe it's flat-out wimpy to be in a room with officials you have recently criticized without offering them a chance to respond, after last night's City Council meeting, I asked several of the Councilmen if they'd be interested in answering an open-ended question on the subject of the police contract.
Ward 2 Councilman and City Council Finance Chair Emilio Navarro was willing to offer the following detailed response…
Cranston City Councilman Emilio Navarro: One of the main issues is the holiday mandate. The proposal is for some up-front cash to be given up on 3 holidays. It is an immediate savings, but the Mayor also agreed with the police union to give them 48 hours of comp time for those holidays, a total of 16 hours for each one. So we’re eventually going to have to pay that comp time down the road, 48 hours for 148 police officers. There's an immediate giveback from the union, but eventually the city is going to have to pay it back.
There are also raises in the contract. There’s a raise in the second year, which is 1.5% and a raise in the third year which is 2.9% if I’m not mistaken. A big part of the savings that the Mayor is touting in the police contract is 1.2 million dollars of vacancies. Right now there are 5 existing vacancies, with a potential of 5 more, with police officers that may retire. When you calculate the raises and you calculate the $1.2 million, it all washes out, and you basically have a net savings of about $200,000 overall. There’s also a clothing allowance that the police are giving back in the first year, but that’s the only monies we're getting that don’t involve some kind of payback down the road at the end of the contract.
AR: Do you think there's any merit to the Mayor's position that because last year's council budgeted for a salary freeze, he has to get the concessions?
EN: He could choose to budget it or not, but the bottom line is that Mayor wants to have an agreement with the union where they’re going to agree to freeze five vacancies, or else he says the union will force him to hire 5. Now look at the situation we’re in. We’re in some very, very tough economic times. All he is doing is creating what I’ll call a structural deficit, because those five and up to ten positions carry to the end of the contract and all it’s doing is making the Mayor not have to budget for those positions right now. Obviously, the money is not there. At the end of the contract, the Mayor is saying we can renegotiate the contract, but the union will be coming into negotiations strong with up to 10 vacancies. They’ll be able to say we’ll be able to force you to hire 10. So how are we going to get any givebacks from the union, when we’re negotiating from a weak point?
Here’s another fundamental change that I think needs to happen, and that I put forth. If we got all of the bargaining units to a 20% co-pay with no cap, I project through fiscal year 2012 that the City would save over 16 million dollars. Now, this is something I think is just sharing the burden with the rest of the taxpayers and what’s going on in their lives everyday, where they’re paying a 20% co-share.
And the Mayor’s savings is not 15%. There’s no percentage savings co-share here. This is a flat fee. They’re going from $25 to $30 for this current budget and for a family plan from $35 to $40. That’s a flat fee, not a percentage. The Mayor equated the $40 to what our 15% is now, but as the cost of health insurance goes up every year, in the third year, they will really be paying a 13% co-share, because there is a cap. What needs to happen is that we need to eliminate the caps from these exiting co-shares, because the taxpayer is bearing the burden when the cost of health care goes up. That’s a fundamental change that needs to happen throughout all of the bargaining units, in order to start stabilizing the financial situation of the City, long term, for my kids and my kids’ kids. We really need to make these kinds of structural changes.
Another structural change that I think they Mayor had an opportunity to do is with new hires. Let’s bring them in in the contract with language that says 20% for co-shares. That way, you’re not taking anything away from existing retirees or potential retirees. Let’s start anew, starting with new hires, so when they read the fine print when they're coming onboard to become a Cranston police officer, it’s a 20% co-share with no cap, 10% co-share towards your healthcare when you retire. Right now, the taxpayer pays 100% of the health care costs for firemen and police. We need to start establishing new rules going forward, because of the economic times that we’re in. The taxpayers can’t afford these types of benefits out of their pockets anymore.
We’re cutting services. We’re losing employees and it’s because of fundamental changes that need to happen. I want my kids to be able to live in the City of Cranston in the future. We need to start making these changes. There’s no reason why we can’t start negotiating these contracts for the future, for future employees, for future hires. These 10 vacancies that we have to carry, if we have to hire them, let’s hire them under new terms. How else are we going to start working down longevity? How are we going to start working all these things down that the taxpayer can’t afford anymore?
Those are the structural issues that I thought the Mayor had an opportunity to bring to the table. Even if the sky’s falling down in the City of Cranston, we still need to try to bring those things to the table for the taxpayer, because they demand it. That’s the way I feel.