PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A bill that would provide municipal workers with so-called “lifetime” contracts was approved by the full House of Representatives Tuesday evening.
The bill proposes contracts for municipal workers and teachers be automatically extended when they expire, even if both sides have yet to come to a new agreement. If passed, the bill would guarantee an extension during the arbitration process.
On Monday, mayors and town administrators from the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns expressed their opposition to the bill, arguing that the legislation would take away the urgency of negotiations which could end up costing the taxpayers.
“If this bill goes into effect, the impact it would have today would be minimal, but the impact it would have later on when we are trying to negotiate a contract would be massive,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said.
Brian Daniels, executive director of the RI League of Cities and Towns, said the bill would “burden municipalities and taxpayers for years to come.”
“Neither the General Assembly or the state would agree to a contract that would go on indefinitely,” he said. “The state shouldn’t mandate that for cities and towns either.”
Eyewitness News reached out to the Providence Teachers Union, whose members began the school year in work-to-rule status amid contract negotiations. Union President Maribeth Calabro said she believes the bill would provide a “safety net” for union members as officials work through contract negotiations.
According to Calabro, Elorza “had no sense of urgency and refused to meet for months on end,” when it came to negotiations. She called his concern that the bill would allow unions to drag out negotiations “disingenuous.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo previously vetoed the bill and said her administration has been working with lawmakers on making the appropriate modifications to it.
“All of these things are a balance,” she said. “We have to protect taxpayers and do what’s right by all of the employees.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Camile Vella-Wilkinson, said the revised version limits the contract renewal to pay and benefits.
“The four corners of the contract are significantly tighter than what it was two years ago. It was much broader,” she said.
Vella-Wilkinson also said she did take into consideration what the mayors had to say in opposition, but said the bill will ultimately level the playing field.
“They want it their way, period,” she said. “I just didn’t think that wasn’t fair.”
Raimondo said at this time, she’s unsure if she will sign the bill if it makes it to her desk.
“If they send me the same bill, I’ll veto again. If there are modifications that I can live with, I’ll sign it,” Raimondo said.
The legislation now heads to the full Senate for a vote.