A Warning-Response Disconnect in North Providence (for One)
North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi has issued twenty layoff notices to public works and municipal employees that will go into effect unless their unions accept a five percent cut in salary and a fifteen percent health insurance contribution. The mayor’s had mixed results, thus far, with the police union coming up with $200,000 and the firefighters’ union going to court. It’s the argument of the latter — put forward elsewhere, recently — that strikes a discordant tone:
On Thursday night, the entire membership of the firefighters’ union voted against the cuts, according to the union’s president, John Silva.
The firefighters, who number about 100, voted for a package of concessions that would save the town about $85,000 between now and June 30, and about $390,000 over the next 15 months, Silva said.
But Lombardi said the town needs about $240,000 in concessions from the firefighters in the current budget year, which ends June 30.
The firefighters union secured a restraining order that would provide some level of layoff protection until Judge Mark A. Pfeiffer takes up the issue Tuesday morning.
Silva said the order would prevent the layoffs. Lombardi said the restraining order allows him to lay off as many as 22 firefighters.
Following the lead of Woonsocket firefighters, the union is arguing that the threatened layoffs would jeopardize their safety and that of the public.
“It’s a third of our force,” Silva said.
We should heed the advice of professional firefighters when it comes to the necessary provisions for our safety, of course, but there’s something that justifiably restrains public judgment. If firefighter and civilian safety is so terribly threatened by layoffs, then how can it not be worth a small cut in pay and reasonable healthcare contributions to prevent them?
Unionists would say that public safety workers would be in a disadvantageous negotiating position if underfunding were always leveraged against their conscience, and that’s a valid argument to be worked out through the give and take of politics and negotiations. But in the current circumstances, the disadvantage is too dramatically skewed the other way; the North Providence union can refuse the concession and turn to the court to stop detrimental cuts in staffing and services.