Negotiate And We Won’t Litigate: NEA-RI Brandishes a Paper Tiger
In light of recent court judgements which have failed to uphold changes to public employee retirement benefits and the corresponding possibility that last session’s pension reform law will eventually be deemed illegal by a court, NEA-RI’s Robert Walsh has a suggestion, via WPRI, for the state: negotiate.
That’s why the four state leaders who pushed through the new pension law should start formal negotiations with union leaders on an alternative overhaul of the system before they lose in court, according to Bob Walsh of the National Education Association Rhode Island.
“The legislative victory that the folks who supported changes in the pension system achieved is going to be short-lived – because it was illegal,” Walsh told WPRI.com on Tuesday. He suggested state leaders should appoint a neutral mediator such as former R.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams to start talks between the two sides.
The complication here is that the specter of yet another unfavorable court ruling may not be as threatening as Mr. Walsh believes. The problem, as we have discussed, is not the unfavorable ruling itself but the reality of its aftermath. Courts can rule all day long that the original, promised benefits – however extravagant and inequitable – are legal. But the court cannot create the ability to pay the benefits if the employer (the state and/or the municipality) simply lacks the means to do so.
The pension reform passed last session by the G.A. fell far short of real reform and represented a substantial victory for labor, as witnessed, in part, by the support it garnered from pro-labor legislators.
It appears that Mr. Walsh is hoping to expand on that victory. If, however, the state were so ill advised as to act on Mr. Walsh’s suggestion, the most likely end result – the promulgation of another precursor to one more perfectly legal and unenforceable ruling – would be an ephemeral victory at best.