Lori Gormley


In 2011, the state of R.I. passed a piece of legislation commonly referred to as RIRSA. The passage of this law had profound effects upon the lives of numerous public service employees. As a law, it is my belief that RIRSA was neither “fair” nor “just”.

RIRSA demonstrated disparity or unfair treatment between employee groups. One such example of disparate treatment was with teachers & health care professionals employed in the public schools. Less than half of the cities & towns in R.I. allow workers to fully participate in Social Security coverage. RIRSA provided no relief or mitigation of benefit cuts to those teachers without Social Security. Teachers were treated as one large, homogeneous group concerning the Social Security benefit when in reality they differed greatly in their ability to access this key retirement benefit. Those employees not allowed to fully participate in Social Security depend on the state’s defined benefit retirement plan to be their version of Social Security. Once retired, they relied upon the defined benefit plan’s predictable COLA to meet their financial commitments. Cutting the COLA for retirees was a devastating financial blow but to those without Social Security, it was an even greater burden.

Post-RIRSA employees, not eligible to retire as of July 1, 2012 with 20 years of service, had their accrual rates slashed, their retirement age increased and their formula for calculating final average salary changed. The employer also increased the employee’s contribution rate for these reduced benefits. A higher cost burden for a lesser benefit as compared to those who had just retired. No other cohort of worker paid an 11.25% rate of salary for a 2% accrual rate multiplier. Does RIRSA turn a blind eye to possible age discrimination when considering the increased financial cost and reduced benefit received by the older worker?

Due to the inequity mentioned above with regard to exclusion from Social Security participation, workers with 20 years or more of service as of July 1, 2012, should be “grandfathered” back to their original Schedule A contract benefits. This would require pensions to be re-calculated with a 3% accrual value for years of service ranging from 21 through 34, final average salary would revert back to the average of an employee’s 3 highest years of salary, and it would bring back the inclusion of an annual 3% compounded COLA. Grandfathering would be a reasonable request given that federal law protects public workers who have been excluded from Social Security participation. In cases of exclusion from Social Security, federal law requires that state and local governments offer retirement plans that comply with pension adequacy standards governed by the Safe Harbor provisions. 

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