Warwick employees union accuses mayor of ‘politics and bullying’

West Bay

Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon (file photo)

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — One day after Warwick’s mayor announced 50 employees in the municipal workers union would be laid off to help balance the city budget, the union’s leader is calling on the mayor to keep negotiating instead.

Local 1651 president Walter Hartley, who works as a police dispatcher, said Thursday the layoffs “can be avoided with a mutually agreeable solution.”

Mayor Joseph Solomon announced Wednesday he would lay off up to 50 city workers after first giving the union the option to forgo previously-negotiated 2.75% wages.

Hartley confirmed the union voted against forgoing the wages, but called it a “more complicated situation than the administration portrayed.”

“Local 1651 asked for financial information; whether other bargaining units were asked for concessions; and presented some alternatives,” Hartley said. “Unfortunately, the administration refused to provide additional information or engage in good faith bargaining.”

The Local 1651 union is the only one currently facing layoffs, while the police, fire and teachers unions are not. (Solomon said the fire department already agreed not to get raises in their most recent contract, while the police department is short-staffed and the teachers negotiate with the school board, not the mayor.)

“The administration’s failure to communicate requested information made the members suspicious,” Hartley said. “Politics and bullying have no place during a pandemic.”

Solomon called the union’s statement “patently false.”

“I take exception to the disingenuous mistruths it contains,” Solomon said. “Provisions in the union contract allow for layoffs. The offer was a simple asking of the union to forgo raises in the upcoming fiscal year to preserve jobs and healthcare for workers, which was soundly rejected, so I acted in accordance with the union’s decision.”

Solomon said he expects the city will lose millions in revenues from the rooms and meals tax and the airport because of the pandemic. His upcoming budget plan is due to the City City on May 15.

The exact jobs that will be eliminated have not yet been released. Solomon described this as “phase 1” of layoffs, with more possible down the line.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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