An Open Letter to the People of North Providence

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November 10, 2017

I write to apprise the taxpayers, residents and all stakeholders in our community of North Providence of the status of pending arbitration with the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 13 (“FOP”) to construct a responsible and balanced labor contract.

As some of you may know, the Town and FOP are operating under the terms of a labor contract that expired June 30, 2016.  Long before that expiration date, the Town and FOP began negotiations on February 24, 2016.  Less than a month after negotiations began, on March 22, 2016 to be precise, the FOP jumped the gun and filed for what is known as interest arbitration, a process by which a 3-member panel of arbitrators will decide and establish the terms of a labor contract to commence July 1, 2016 and end June 30, 2017.  Simply stated, before substantive discussions on the respective Town and FOP proposals for that contract took place, the FOP opted for the expensive and time-consuming interest arbitration process.  Notwithstanding that premature tactic, the Town demonstrated its good faith and continued to negotiate with the FOP for at least 5 more sessions through late January of this year. 

Regrettably there is impasse, as the FOP refuses to concede rights that the Town previously won in Superior Court litigation.  For example, as far back as October of 2010, following the ruling in that litigation, the FOP also had agreed that the Deputy Chief, a key managerial position in the command staff would become non-union.  The FOP also agreed back then to eliminate a provision in the labor contract impeding the Town’s right to modify its organizational chart.  Disturbingly, in the face of the Town’s court victory, and the FOP’s 2010 specific agreement to concede rightful and critical management prerogatives to the Town, the FOP has now reneged on its promises.

And so, we are now mired in the expensive and protracted process of interest arbitration, which compels the Town to expend sizable amounts of money in legal fees, expert witness fees, arbitrator fees, stenographic fees and other costs of this contested evidentiary proceeding. We have had eight days of trial and there is no end in sight in this calendar year as further hearing dates are scheduled in November.

I present these facts to not only underscore the expense of this adversarial arbitration process, something the public surely has a right to know, but to let you know that I am committed to the principle of managing our police department in the best interests of the public, operationally and fiscally.  That said, I am desirous to achieve a cost-effective and reasonable compromise with the FOP.   For example, in an effort to reduce the number of contested issues in arbitration, at the urging of an officer in the FOP, I offered to increase the private detail rate of our police officers to $45 per hour, a rate that is more comparable to surrounding communities.  In return, I simply asked that the FOP agree to what it had previously agreed to, i.e. exclusion of the Deputy Chief Position from the union and the ability of the Town to select the best qualified candidate for Deputy Chief, whether from within or outside the North Providence Police Department.  This good faith offer on just these two issues pending in arbitration was rejected.

It seems plain to me that there is no genuine interest or appetite by the FOP leadership or its representative to forge labor peace and craft a meaningful compromise.  As long as it persists in such an unreasonable posture, I will plod ahead with arbitration. I cannot and will not surrender management or non-delegable responsibilities and duties of the Town to the FOP.  Hopefully sensible minds will eventually prevail.

 

Very truly yours,

Charles A. Lombardi
Mayor

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