In a sharp defeat for fire unions, two bills that would strengthen their hand in dealing with cities and towns on overtime spending are dead in the current legislative session, lawmakers and a top fire union official say.
Legislative committee votes on the two high-profile firefighter overtime bills were canceled Thursday, and neither of the bills is expected to get a vote before lawmakers conclude the session.
House Majority Whip Jay Edwards (D-Tiverton) said there are sufficient votes in the House to pass his overtime bill, but,"I don't think it's ready at this moment." Edwards said with time running short, he doesn't expect a vote on the measure before the legislative session ends.
Meanwhile, the sponsor of the other OT bill, Senator Frank Lombard (D-Cranston), said he's pulling the bill and instead backing a study of municipal police and fire overtime, scheduling and staffing.
Paul Doughty, president of Local 799, of the International Association of Firefighters, limited his wrath toward the House.
"I think it's a betrayal by the House and it sends a message to everyone that when people in the House give you their word, it's meaningless," Doughty said.
Doughty said Local 799 would have been satisfied with an up or down vote in the House, but that he doesn't expect that to happen. He said he was promised there would be a House vote on the OT bill, but declined to identify the person who gave him the pledge.
While a possible resurrection of the legislation can't be completely ruled out, the overtime matter appears to be playing out instead in negotiations between Local 799 and City Hall.
Doughty said he was in talks with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza until 2:30 am Thursday, and then again from 9 am to 5 pm, and that negotiations will continue over Elorza's plan to shift Providence firefighters from four platoons to three.
Both Edwards' and Lombardi's bills call for firefighters to be paid for overtime if they work more than 42 hours in a week, unless otherwise agreed by firefighters and local leaders.
In a statement, Elorza -- who has clashed with Providence firefighters on overtime spending -- suggested legislative leaders were responsible for the sudden transformation in the bills' chances. "I appreciate the leadership of our State House leaders," Elorza said, "and I look forward to continue negotiating a fair agreement with the Providence Fire Fighters Local 799."
While Elorza and other municipal leaders have called the overtime bills a threat to municipal budgets, fire unions said the legislation was necessary to stop unilateral changes to firefighters' work conditions by cities and towns.
Senator Lombardi said he submitted his overtime legislation "because of concerns I have about public safety and fairness. Since that time I have heard from many constituents who have concerns about the bill. My concerns are always with my constituents first. In light of the sentiments they have expressed to me, I believe we should proceed with caution, and only after a truly independent analysis.”
In a statement, Lombardi continued, “Both sides of this debate presented polar opposite views about the potential financial impact of this legislation. Public safety personnel say it is a necessary safeguard with little or no financial impact. Mayors and administrators say there could be significant impact. Therefore, I believe it is prudent to conduct a thorough and completely independent examination of this issue before moving forward with this legislation."
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee, who has sided with cities and towns on the overtime issue, said, "I am pleased that the voice of municipal leaders throughout Rhode Island has been heard, and that Senator Lombardi will not seek a vote on the bill at this time. I welcome a full and thoughtful study of this complex issue, as recommended by the senator.
McKee added, "On behalf of municipal leaders and the taxpayers of our state, I look forward to working with the General Assembly on ways we can help our cities and towns operate more efficiently. I commit to working with the House and Senate leadership to make decisions that are in the best interests of everyone as we do the hard work of rebuilding Rhode Island's economy. Meanwhile, we are mindful and appreciative of the hard work of our firefighters and the dedication they demonstrate every day.”
This post has been updated.