PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration has reached a tentative agreement with the IAFF Local 799 Providence Firefighters Union on a new five-year contract that would include 4% annual raises and a significant increase in the firefighters’ contributions to the city pension system.
The tentative collective bargaining agreement — which still needs to be ratified by the roughly 400 union members — would increase the firefighters’ pension contributions to 16% of their gross pay by 2026. The firefighters will also pay more for their medical benefits.
The contract goes from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2027. It also needs to be approved by the Providence City Council.
The contract is the second deal this year in which the Elorza administration got union employees to contribute more money to the severely underfunded pension system. The most recent contract with the union representing Providence police officers secured 13.5% pension contributions from the police officers by next year.
Firefighters currently contribute either 8% or 9% of their pay to the pension fund, depending on whether they were hired before or after an agreement reached with former Mayor Angel Taveras to increase the contribution to 9%.
The new agreement will apply to both current and newly hired firefighters, bringing the pension contribution up to 10% in 2022, 11.5% in 2023, 13% in 2024, 14.5% in 2025 and 16% in 2026.
The firefighters will also receive 4% pay raises during each of those years.
The firefighters’ share of their medical premiums also increase in each year of the contract, with premiums in the first year set at $1,638 annually for an individual, $3,605 for an individual and spouse, $3,851 for an individual and children, and $4,217 for a family plan.
The contract is expected to cost the city roughly $10 million over the five years, while the firefighters will be putting $8.5 million more into the pension fund than they would have at their current contribution rate, according to city solicitor Jeff Dana.
Dana said the months of negotiations were “extremely professional and productive.”
The negotiation stands in contrast with the first firefighter negotiation during Elorza’s term in office, which was extremely contentious after the mayor moved the department from a four-platoon to a three-platoon system in an effort to achieve cost savings in call-back pay.
That protracted battle dominated much of Elorza’s first term in office, and led to firefighters picketing at one of his campaign events. A deal between the two sides was ultimately reached in 2016, which returned the department to four platoons.
The new contract agreement doesn’t make any changes to the platoon structure for firefighters or the minimum staffing level, which is 88. The firefighters currently work 24-hour shifts, followed by 48 hours off.
“I’m confident that it’s a good deal for both the city and the membership,” said Derek Silva, the union president. He presented the details of the agreement to union members Tuesday afternoon. A ratification vote is expected in December.
“The security of knowing what it is for the next five years, good or bad, is a tremendous benefit to the membership,” Silva added, noting that the city will have a new mayor and new City Council after next year’s election. “It’s less of an unknown now,” he said.
“My top priority since taking office has been addressing the City’s long-standing structural challenges that have held the city back,” Elorza said in a statement. “This agreement achieves significant pension reform as a means for longer term financial stability for the City and recognizes the hard work of our Providence firefighters. I thank Providence IAFF Local 799 President Derek Silva and the entire IAFF leadership team for their good-faith efforts to reach an agreement.”
Silva said the contract would put both the pay and the pension contributions on the high end compared to other Rhode Island departments.
The deal also makes other small changes, including adding deputy fire chiefs to the union, changing the shift structure for dispatchers and requiring firefighters to have a cardiac EMT certification, a higher level than the basic EMT certification that is currently required.