PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – While more than 250 firefighters and their supporters rallied throughout City Hall, the Providence City Council met with Elorza administration officials behind closed doors Tuesday to receive their first briefing on the status of an ongoing legal dispute between the city and the firefighters’ union.
The 13 council members who attended the meeting immediately voted to enter executive session, forcing reporters and other spectators to exit the hearing on the third floor of City Hall. The group was expected to meet for about an hour, according to Council President Luis Aponte.
The meeting came hours after lawyers for the city and the union told a Superior Court judge they’ve been unable to reach an agreement over how much to pay firefighters for going from working an average of 42 hours each week to an average of 56 hours.
Judge Jeffrey Lanphear is now expected to rule on the union’s request to send the compensation aspect of the city’s changes to grievance arbitration, although he hasn’t set a date for his decision. Either way, it is likely the losing side will file for appeal.
In the meantime, the Elorza administration has already moved forward with requiring city firefighters to work two 10-hour days followed by two 14-hour nights before having two days off, a schedule is not believed to be used by any other fire department in the country. (The previous schedule was similar, but firefighters had four days off.)
The union has argued that its existing contract guarantees that its members should be paid time-and-a-half for every hour it works over 42 hours in a week, a policy that has been followed until Elorza made the changes Aug. 1.
City officials have dismissed criticism over the 56-hour work week, noting that most firefighters were already working more than 42 hours a week and receiving time-and-a-half for callback pay. Providence has spent an average of $9 million annually on callback since 2009.
By moving from four platoons to three, Elorza has said the city will have more breathing room to ensure that it has the contractually-required 94 firefighters on duty at all times before it needs to callback members of other platoons and pay them overtime for the extra hours. The firefighters’ union has said Providence could accomplish the same goal by hiring more firefighters.