The Providence, R.I., firefighters union, at odds with Mayor Jorge Elorza over a department reorganization, wants a court to vacate its 2013 pension settlement.
The union asked the Rhode Island Superior Court to vacate a pension settlement it reached two years ago with city officials led by former Mayor Angel Taveras.
Monday's filing relates to Mayor Jorge Elorza's restructuring plan for the department, which took effect Sunday, and the union's request for grievance arbitration.
According to Elorza, switching from a four-platoon system to three and increasing work weeks from 42 to 56 hours could save the department $5 million in overtime costs annually.
Superior Court Associate Justice Jeffrey Lanphear is presiding over the grievance motion.
Lanphear on Monday referred the motion to vacate the pension deal to Associate Justice Sarah Taft-Carter. The latter in 2013 signed off on the settlement, which included the suspension of all cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years, and eliminated 5% and 6% compounded COLAs altogether. In addition, retirees 65 and older moved onto Medicare.
Taft-Carter two months ago ratified a class-action settlement in the lawsuit over Rhode Island's 2011 law overhauling pension benefits for state employees.
Paul Doughty, president of Local 799 of the International Association of Firefighters, said Elorza's assertion that the City Council improperly approved the Providence firefighters' contract in 2011 means the pension compromise two years later, which involved benefit reductions, was also improper.
Doughty said nullification of the pension compromise could raise the city's unfunded pension liability to $200 million and increase its annually required contribution by about $22 million.
"Both of those are extraordinary and I think the mayor is making a colossal mistake. I think he's gotten extraordinarily bad legal advice," he said. "Unfortunately the outcome may bring the city to the brink of bankruptcy and into bankruptcy."
Early in 2013, Taveras pushed for the pension compromise, likening the city's financial crisis to a "Category 5 hurricane" and calling for concessions from retirees.
City attorney Timothy Cavazza said the council should not have agreed to the five-year deal in 2011. Taveras and the council added another year as part of the settlement. Cavazza cited a 2012 state law that limited long-term contracts to distressed municipalities that are in receivership or under a budget commission, neither of which applied to Providence.