NORTH SMITHFIELD – After some delay, the North Smithfield Town Council has approved a new contract for municipal staff with salary and benefit increases that will cost the town roughly $175,000 over the next three years.
The agreement, which is retroactive to July 1 of last year, was initially scheduled for vote earlier this month, but was tabled after Councilor Paul Vadenais expressed concerns over inaccuracies of several job titles.
On Thursday, Jan. 27, it passed 3-1, with Vadenais casting the dissenting vote after expressing new concerns over the inclusion of a, “payroll benefits coordinator,” position.
“That ‘no’ vote is not a reflection on anyone’s performance,” Vadenais said Thursday of the union staff.
The new agreement between the town and members of Council 94 Local 937 includes 2 percent raises for members in the first year, 3.25 in the second and 3.74 in the third. It also includes longevity increases totaling roughly $15,000 over the three year period, and concessions for health care premiums, with a higher share to be paid by the municipal employees.
Beginning in 2022, staff will contribute 13 percent to the cost of health care and dental premiums, up from 12 percent in the previous contract, with another increase up to 14 percent scheduled for 2023.
The deal itself has seen little opposition since it was first brought before councilors on Wednesday, Jan. 18. The Budget Committee weighed in on the impact to town coiffures in December, noting that the agreement will cost $40,472 in the first year, $75,709 in the second and $58,666 in the final year.
At a public hearing, one staff member pointed out that it does not include overtime pay for part time dispatchers who work third shift on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Last week, Councilor Kimberly Alves questioned if the benefit should be added.
“I’m all for that, but the question I have is: Is it our place to do that? Shouldn’t their union be negotiating that?” asked Council President John Beauregard.
Beauregard noted that the request should have been part of initial union negotiations, and no change was ultimately made to the agreement before councilors last Thursday.
Earlier this month, Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski made his case for immediate approval of the deal, pointing to increases to the cost of living in recent years, and disparities in pay for some jobs compared to neighboring towns.
“These are things I would like you to take into consideration,” Zwolenski said.
The union’s previous three year contract, passed in 2018, had expired last July.
“I’d like to have it done as soon as possible,” the administrator said of council approval.
But Vadenais pointed out that the titles of some positions covered in the agreement not consistent with the town charter.
“We need to create these new positions by ordinance,” Vadenais said.
Zwolenski noted that none of the roles were actually new to the town, but the disparities reflected changes to titles and job descriptions over time, with some going back many years, over several administrations.
“We’re not creating new positions,” Zwolenski said.
Councilors tabled the vote, and town officials have since cleaned up the titles, and noting that the agreement includes the jobs of kennel assistant; tax collection specialist; benefits/payroll coordinator; clerk/recycling coordinator and foreman.
“I appreciate the fact that time was taken to look at other job titles that haven’t been previously approved based on the charter,” Councilor Stephen Corriveau said of the completed deal last week. “I appreciate all the legwork that went into bringing everything up to speed.”
Vadenais, however, questioned if it was appropriate to include the payroll coordinator, arguing that human resource jobs that include authority over things such as hiring, firing and discipline of other municipal staff, should fall under management.
Zwolenski said that no such authority is giving to the benefits coordinator role, and councilors asked Town Solicitor David Igliozzi to weigh in.
“You have every right legally to approve the contract with this position,” Igliozzi said.
Vadenais seemed to remain unconvinced, continuing his argument that the job was a new position that should not be part of the union.
“They can’t discipline,” Zwolenski said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Councilor Claire O’Hara not present for the Thursday night meeting.
The agreement, which can be found here, will expire June 30 of 2024.