With the first round of voting in the controversial pension reform settlement set to conclude today, the ACLU of Rhode Island has announced plans to submit testimony at an anticipated “fairness hearing,” if one occurs, in order to raise concerns about the settlement’s opt-out voting process.
In the past month, the RI ACLU has received dozens of complaints from union members and retirees about the settlement’s “opt-out” voting process, which counts all unreturned ballots as votes in support of the settlement. In a letter to the complainants, the ACLU acknowledged the legitimacy of those concerns, noting that:
- Although opt-out voting is a common practice in class-action litigation, such a procedure occurs after a class has been approved, not before.
- An opt-out process fails to give voters the opportunity to abstain or otherwise remain neutral. “The opportunity to take no position on this agreement is one that current union members and retirees should have, and that a normal voting process would allow,” the ACLU letter states.
- Referring to reports of qualified individuals who did not receive ballots, and noting other reasons why some voting members might be unable to return theirs, the letter said that “the inadvertent loss of a right to vote is worrisome enough, but the problem is compounded if the loss of that vote actually counts as a vote in one – and only one – particular way.”
A fairness hearing, in which the court decides whether the proposed settlement agreement is fair and reasonable, will only be held if none of the designated “classes” of voters reject the proposal during the two rounds of voting that will take place.
While planning to submit testimony at that hearing, the ACLU advised complainants it would not be taking any independent legal action. The letter concluded by emphasizing that while the ACLU did not “question the good faith of all the parties who have been involved in this intricate litigation . . . an opt-in process is the only fair way to conduct a vote like this.”