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Firefighter’s widow, union feel ‘cheated’ over slashed pension

Target 12

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Diane Calci did not expect to be the test-case for what was known as the “widows’ clause” in a 2014 agreement involving the town of West Warwick and its firefighter and police officer disability pension.

The clause was added to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to offset concessions that, according to the union, were aimed at “helping” the town’s troubled pension – now about 23 percent funded.

Under the previous contract, widows received 67.5 percent of their spouse’s monthly pension benefit.

The MOU, approved by a Kent County Superior Court judge in July 2014, states, “The widow of any deceased disability retiree shall not receive any reduction in benefits.”

But when Calci received her first pension check after her husband Edward died in 2016, she was “horrified” to see it was about $1,000 less than she thought it would be.

“He gave his blood, sweat, and tears to this town,” Calci said. “And this is how a widow is treated? I feel discriminated against by the town.”

Calci was also the only member of the disability pension group who did not receive a 2 percent cost of living adjustment that was supposed to kick in this year.

Retired police officer Kevin O’Connell, the disability pension chairman and one of the MOU negotiators, said the union “gave up a lot” during negotiations, including an escalation clause that provided potential annual increases to the members’ benefits.

“We negotiated in good faith,” he said. “That [widows’ clause] was something they agreed to give us in return.”

Calci, the first widow from the 42-member retiree group since the MOU was signed, filed a lawsuit in 2016, about four months after her husband died.

“I had very few alternatives,” she said. “I was not notified by the town. This is how they treat their widows? I don’t understand why I can’t get an answer.”

Town Solicitor Tim Williamson told Target 12 the clause in question “only encompassed those widows” at the time of the agreement and consent judgment.

“Since Diane Calci’s husband was alive, she was not a widow at the time of the entry of the Consent Judgment,” Williamson explained.

O’Connell said Williamson’s characterization is not true, pointing out that there was one widow in the group at the time of the MOU negotiations and she declined to sign the agreement after it was approved.

O’Connell said other spouses are worried about what will happen to them.

“I know we were cheated,” O’Connell said. “Expedite the process. Get it into court. We’re willing to go to court and testify. The town should be willing.”

The town filed an answer to Calci’s lawsuit in 2016, saying, “Defendant can neither admit nor deny the allegation” to all 14 paragraphs of the complaint.

Since then, Calci has filed several motions without any filings from the town.

“No one seems to want to provide me or our group with any answers,” Calci said. “They don’t want to talk to me. I just don’t understand it.”

The attorney for the West Warwick pension board has not responded to a request for comment.

The most recent data from the treasurer‘s office indicates West Warwick’s
pension system is the third lowest-funded in the state at just over 23 percent.

The Coventry Police pension system is at the bottom, funded at just over 20
percent, and Cranston’s closed Police and Fire is second lowest, funded at just under 22 percent.

Walt Buteau (wbuteau@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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