Unions Balk at Chafee’s Plan to Help Distressed Cities

Struggling in a sea of debt, mayors in Rhode Island have been begging for years to get some authority to bring pension costs under control.

On Thursday, Governor Chafee proposed a plan to help the state's most financially troubled communities, make sweeping changes to pension plans and state mandates.

Public employee unions though will likely fight the plan with everything they've got, and it's life-cycle in the general assembly, is another question entirely.

But Chafee and the mayors of the state's most distressed cities, maintain that this may be the last chance to intervene, before many communities have to declare bankruptcy.

The governor's package includes 7-pieces of legislation that will address everything from freezing colas, to removing certain state mandates, and even getting state aid to distressed cities earlier.

“We're all trying to avoid that dreaded B-word, that happened to Central Falls, this package, will help us, all of us in one degree or another.” said Cranston's mayor, Allan Fung.

Providence's mayor Angel Taveras agrees, saying that, “This legislation is really a package that gives us tools, it gives us the ability to decide what will work in our community.”

Governor Chafee says that the dire financial straights that distressed cities like Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and West Warwick, now find themselves in, isn't really their fault.

He says that a 20-percent reduction in state aid over the last 3-years has put these communities in a bad spot.

“They get a disproportionate amount of state aid and so when its cut, it falls on those who can least afford it .” said Governor Chafee.

The proposed legislation though isn't being met with universal praise.

Many unions including the AFL-CIO and AFSCME Council 94, are wary of the governor's package, and are calling it “…an assault on collective bargaining.”

But Governor Chafee insists that there are no-good choices left and says that working together is the only way forward.

“Let's all work together, to avoid bankruptcy, that's what nobody wants, the unions don't want that, we don't want that.” said Chafee.

Now among the tools the governor is trying to give mayors and town managers is the ability to approve school budgets and contracts, ending a requirement for pay increases for teachers based on seniority, and suspending bus monitors for school kids in grades K thru 5, using volunteers, in their place.