PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Testimony began Wednesday in a so-called “fairness trial” over the proposed Rhode Island pension settlement.
The fairness hearing is a common step on the road to settling a class action lawsuit. This one concerns a deal that will directly impact the benefits of tens of thousands of state workers and retirees and the taxes of everyone who lives or works in Rhode Island.
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Approximately 65 objectors to the proposed settlement will be able to express their concerns directly to Judge Sarah Taft-Carter over the next several days.
“There’s a bargain, there’s an implied contract that was struck, and that contract has been taken away from us,” said Cliff Peasley, expressing a common sentiment among objectors on Wednesday.
The prevailing question for the judge is whether the deal is “fair, adequate and reasonable” in its terms. Peasley, a member of the Providence Teachers Union and guidance counselor of 16 years, believes it is not.
“People with 20 or more years get a better deal than people with 10 to 15, or 15 to 20,” he said.
Taft-Carter gave her initial approval to the settlement last month, and she’s widely expected to sign off once and for all on the terms, which go into effect July 1.
The lawsuit stems from $4 billion in retirement cuts passed by the General Assembly four years ago. Union members overwhelmingly agreed to settle in late March.
Many who voted in favor believe the terms aren’t ideal, but rather the best outcome for the greatest number of pensioners.
“In the end, I signed on to something, I paid my contributions, so I expect to get what I signed on to,” said Peasley.
Objectors to the settlement did get a chance to cross-examine witnesses on Wednesday, but have not yet addressed their concerns to the court.