Providence fire union taps former top City Hall aide to negotiate with Elorza administration

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – In a stunning turn of events, the Providence Firefighters Union has hired the former director of administration under former Mayor Angel Taveras as a consultant in its ongoing dispute with Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Michael D’Amico, who left his post in City Hall in 2014 but remained a labor and budget consultant to the city until June 30, will assist the firefighters’ union in its mediation with the Elorza administration over a slew of complaints that have arisen in the year since the mayor overhauled the fire department, according to Paul Doughty, president of Local 799 of the International Association of Firefighters

“He’s a credible source who both sides would agree is knowledgeable on budget issues,” Doughty told WPRI.com.

D’Amico earned $6,000 a month acting as the lead negotiator on union contracts with the city’s police officers, teachers, laborers and school clerical workers, but was not included in the Elorza administration’s talks with the firefighters for reasons that have never been disclosed.

With D’Amico at the helm, the Taveras administration worked to guide Providence out of a $110-million structural deficit in 2011 by winning concessions from the city’s public employee unions and reaching agreements with its major nonprofit organizations for payments in lieu of taxes. D’Amico and Taveras forged a particularly tight bond with Doughty, who has regularly praised the former mayor in the 19 months since he left office.

“I think the city made a mistake in note retaining him [for the firefighter negotiations],” Doughty said.

D’Amico did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. A spokesperson for the Elorza administration declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations with the union.

The firefighters’ union contract is set to expire June 30, 2017, but the union and the administration have been locked in a legal battle ever since Mayor Jorge Elorza announced plans to restructure the department to require firefighters to work an average of 56 hours per week across three platoons rather than average of 42 hours per week across four platoons.

The change, Elorza said, was designed to reduce callback overtime, but the union filed suit arguing that its members should be paid a time-and-a-half rate for working more than 42 hours per week. A Rhode Island Superior Court judge ordered the two sides to grievance arbitration, but the administration is appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.

At the same time, retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams has agreed to serve as mediator in “global settlement” talks. The goal is to reach an agreement on the shift change dispute as well as each of the 77 grievances the union has filed and an unrelated federal involving overtime calculations.

Last month, the City Council announced plans to hire prominent attorney Max Wistow be its “eyes and ears” when it comes the ongoing dispute, according to Council President Luis Aponte. Wistow will earn $250 per hour to advise the council on settlement negotiations, Aponte said.

D’Amico’s contract with the city came to an end last month after some City Council members expressed frustration that his agreement with the city never came before the council or the city’s board of contract and supply. The council entered into a separate contract with D’Amico to conduct a study on study on job descriptions across city government in 2014.

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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