Supporters say the contracts law is needed to prevent municipalities from imposing concessions on city and town workers.

But municipal leaders say the law, passed by the legislature this year and signed by Raimondo, handcuffs them in negotiations and will ultimately spark higher property taxes in communities across the state.

“As we all know, it makes it astronomically harder to get concessions during difficult financial times, and it provides collective bargaining units with the significant advantage,” Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said during a news conference at North Providence Town Hall. “The cities and towns, which are already bearing the financial brunt of excessive legislation, can not shoulder the burdens any more.”

Lawyer Angel Taveras, the former Providence mayor, is representing the communities supporting the lawsuit: Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Central Falls, Charlestown, Cranston, East Greenwich, Lincoln, Little Compton, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, Providence, Smithfield and Woonsocket.

Taveras said he expects the case to ultimately be decided by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and that opponents may seek a restraining order at some point to block the implementation of the law. Taveras said he will be paid $450 an hour for his work on the case.

The lawsuit contends the contracts law is unconstitutional and violates the provision guaranteeing home rule.

Labor unions pushed for the contracts law, which continues the previous pay and benefits for municipal workers in the absence of a new agreement after a contract expires. The Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, a lobbying organization, argued against it.

In a joint statement, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio rejected the municipalities’ view that the contracts bill is bad for taxpayers.

“We’re disappointed that some local leaders have chosen to take the unusual step of suing the General Assembly and the governor,” Mattiello and Ruggerio said. “We are confident the law enacted to protect our municipal employees and teachers will withstand this legal challenge. This law requires all municipal leaders to come to the negotiating table in good faith. It protects wages and benefits when a contract has expired so that these employees can continue to serve their communities and our children. This law, which had been standard practice for many years, is fair to both sides and creates a level playing field for all parties.” 

Josh Block, the governor’s spokesman, said, “The lawsuit was just filed this morning and we haven't had a chance to fully review it. The legislation passed by the General Assembly last session was narrowly tailored to return to what was the status quo for decades in Rhode Island, and we're confident it will stand.”

In 2017, Raimondo vetoed a previous version of the contracts bill, citing many of the concerns cited by municipal leaders. Although opponents disagree, she has said that the 2019 bill was more finely tuned and took into account her previous criticism.

In terms of current negotiations, the town manager of East Greenwich, Andrew Nota, said the contracts law is having what he called “significant leverage” on attempts to reach a new teachers contract. “At this moment, I think, the hardship is going to rest on the outcome of negotiation. Most likely, that’s going to be retroactive to September 1.”

One other official in current negotiations, Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, declined to specify which union she is talking with. “You can call my office,” she told one reporter.

Municipal officials said the contracts law is a particular concern since personnel costs form a high percentage of costs for cities and towns.

“[This] never-ending lifetime contract law ties the hands of all municipal leaders,” North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi said. “It handcuffs the bargaining position of communities, and create an obstruction of traditional bargaining. This in my opinion is an insult to those taxpayers who placed their trust in the leaders they elect to negotiate a contract that would be in the best interest of both taxpayers and employees.”