Elorza walks back claim that firefighters’ contract is invalid

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Two weeks after arguing that the city’s contract with its firefighters’ union is “void and unenforceable,” the Elorza administration is backing off its claim.

R.I. Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Lanphear said the the city and the union have agreed that the existing contract is valid. The city previously suggested the deal invalid because former Mayor Angel Taveras and the Providence City Council had no legal right to agree to a long-term deal in 2011.

The city and the union appeared in court for a status conference Wednesday afternoon. The two sides have already agreed to enter mediation in attempt to reach a settlement over how much to pay the firefighters for increasing their work week.

The city first suggested the contract may be invalid as part of their argument against going to arbitration with the union over the city’s decision to require firefighters to go from working an average of 42 hours per week to an average of 56 hours. The city claims it has a management right to make those changes.

Citing state law, the city said municipalities aren’t allowed to approve union contracts beyond three years unless a budget commission or receiver has been appointed for the city, something that has never happened in Providence.

In 2011, the City Council ratified a contract with the firefighters that spanned from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2013 as well as a second agreement that went from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2016, plans that were both supported by Taveras. Taveras and the council later tacked on a sixth year to the deal as part of the 2013 pension reform agreement with the city’s two public safety unions and retirees.

The Elorza administration argued that Taveras and the council essentially approved a six-year union contract even though individual votes were taken on the first deal, the second one and the amended deal for the pension settlement.

Elorza’s argument prompted the union to ask a judge to vacate the pension settlement, pointing to a provision in the 2013 pension settlement that called for the city to modify existing union contracts and add an additional year to the firefighters’ deal. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter approved the deal.

Lanphear said the union is withdrawing its request to vacate the pension deal.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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