Working to increase contract negotiations

OSPRI fans know our president is on the Hopkinton Town Council. This comes from the local paper (Westerly Sun).

Union contracts up for vote next week
Hopkinton councilors weigh pacts with police, department heads and clerical workers.
By VICTORIA GOFF / Sun Staff Writer
HOPKINTON — The Town Council is expected to consider approving contracts for three unions next week after the existing pacts expire tomorrow.

The council will likely vote on the pacts for the unions — police, clerical and “professional and technical” (department heads) — on July 6, said former Town Manager William A. DiLibero and Council President Thomas E. Buck, who have been in private talks with the unions.

The police union has approved its contract. The council has not yet seen final versions of the other two contracts, and it is awaiting approval by the unions, said DiLibero, whose last day as town manager was Friday.

The council has not publicly offered details on what is contained in the new pacts, despite earlier this year supporting a bill that would have required municipalities and school districts to release a proposed contract and an accompanying fiscal impact statement 30 days before ratifying it.

The proposal to release the contracts prior to ratification was part of the governor’s budget-repair plan to close a multi-million dollar state deficit by June 30. It was later eliminated from the plan passed by state lawmakers.

In January, the council passed 4-1 a resolution that said the bill, along with three other measures proposed by the governor, would “improve the management and operations of the Chariho regional school system.” The council also supported other proposals included in the governor’s plan, saying they would lower municipal costs.

Councilor Beverly P. Kenney was the sole dissenter.

But since that vote, two councilors have changed their minds.

“I’m going to recant my vote on that,” Buck said Thursday. “That was one that was added to [the resolution] at the last minute. I didn’t have chance to review it.”

Asked why he doesn’t support releasing a contract to the public for review before it is ratified, Buck said, “It’s not the right way to do it. I was elected by the townspeople to negotiate their contracts.”

“Too many things come up, too many issues come up,” he said. “Too many things change in contract negotiations. As you get down the road, you trade off something for something else.”

Buck cut short the phone interview with The Sun Thursday because he said he was on another phone line with someone else. He did not respond to messages left at his home Friday and Saturday.

Councilor Sylvia K. Thompson had first suggested that the council endorse releasing contracts early, but recently said she no longer supports the measure.

As a member of the public, she said she would think: “You’re all done [with negotiations], you’re not going to do anything, so what good is that?”

“I could see where it could just irritate the taxpayer because what are you doing this for and shouldn’t you have done it before?” she added.

Instead, Thompson said she would support meeting with the public before negotiations start, like Chariho Regional School District officials did in December before they started talks with the teacher’s union. The council would give an overview of the current contract and its fiscal impact, she said, and then it would ask the public for its opinion on a new contract.

After a contract is ratified, she said the council should explain its “ins and outs” and financial effects.

Councilor William J. Felkner, an advocate for open contract negotiations, said he hopes that is an action the council will take.

“It’s the people’s money,” he said. “We’re spending their money. I think they should know what deal we just signed them up for the next three years.”

Councilor Barbara A. Capalbo said, “I don’t think that the majority of the people care about the intricacies [of a contract], but I do think that in general terms it must be discussed.” General terms, she said, would be “salaries, benefits.”

Capalbo said contract talks should occur privately “so people can be as clear and forthright as they want to be,” but noted she would support releasing a contract to the public once it is “clear” with the negotiating parties before ratification.

“We obviously can’t change everything at one time but I think it is good for the public to be aware of the changes in the contract,” she said.

Kenney said contract talks should always take place privately.

“I believe contract negotiations are a give and take, and working to get the best deal for the town is easier to do when it is in closed session,” she said.

But Thompson said she hopes state lawmakers would eventually pass a law to require contract talks to be held publicly to benefit municipalities, as she says unions currently have an advantage.

“They’re the ones that fundraise and many of them have a huge war chest in the bank for arbitration,” she said.

Another potential benefit, Thompson noted: “More people in town would be interested and take an active role in what these contracts really mean.”

While Thompson supports open negotiations, she doesn’t want to be the first community to lead the charge, if state law does not mandate public talks.

“It comes to picking your battles,” she said.


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