Rhode Island Pension Law May Be Too Harsh, Workers Say

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A pension law, passed by Rhode Island over two years ago, continues to stir up controversy. “The pension law that Rhode Island passed two years ago is considered among the most far-reaching in the nation, largely because it not only lowered the retirement benefits of new workers but affected the future benefits of current workers, a politically difficult move that few states attempt,” The New York Times reports. The state and Rhode Island unions reached a tentative agreement on February 14.

RI law not only lowered the retirement benefits of new workers but affected the future benefits of current workers.
RI law not only lowered the retirement benefits of new workers but affected the future benefits of current workers.

“The judge has been prepared all along for this matter to go to trial for decision. That’s one way to resolve a dispute, but we also have the widely used practice of alternative dispute resolution,” Craig Berke, a judiciary spokesman, told The Providence Journal. The alternative in this particular case, mediation, enlists a neutral professional to help broker compromises. Through mediation, parties set out to reach an agreement on their own terms instead of relying on judges to determine what is best. Berke adds, “No one forced the state or the unions to keep mediating. They only had to participate once, and they could then have walked away from the table. The only purpose of the status conferences all these months was for the judge to hear whether the parties were talking and whether they wanted to continue to talk.”

Although the exact terms of the agreement are not available, The New York Times reports that the proposed compromise “softens some provisions in a sweeping 2011 law intended to control the spiraling cost of the state’s pension system.”

The U.S. is not the only country to implement — and often favor — employee mediation. The Royal Mail, the company responsible for the United Kingdom’s postal services, for example, recently called on mediators to help solve ongoing bullying and harassment disputes. “In any organization challenges are going to arise. The Royal Mail, along with the unions, are showing real leadership and a proactive approach,” HR Magazine said.

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