June 8, 2005

Organizing and Reforming State Labor

Marc Comtois

Governor Carcieri and the union leaders of Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have accepted the compromise suggested by by conciliator Margaret L. Hogan last month. In short

Council 94 members would get 4-percent raises this year and next, and 3-percent raises for the two years after that. In turn, they would begin paying 2.5 percent of their base pay toward their health-care premiums, plus half a percent of salary add-ons such as overtime or longevity pay.
A couple union leaders voted against the proposal
Stephen Robertson, president of Council 94's Local 2448, was one of the two union leaders who voted against the deal.

Robertson, who represents nearly 500 Department of Administration employees, said he believed workers were being asked to pay too much toward their health care. He also said it was "inherently unfair" to take a share of things such as overtime pay, and called the raises "anemic."

One wonders whether that is just spin or not. The bottom line is this: the Governor succeeded in getting the the union to acknowledge the concept of health care premium co-sharing. Yes, the net effect of the compromise is still an overall increase in wages and benefits to the employees (4% raise - 2.5% co-share= 1.5% net increase, roughly speaking), but, at least at first glance, the Governor has won the conceptual battle. Hopefully this will become the norm throughout the state. In the meantime, the Governor has to gird himself for a coming battle over the unionization of day care providers.
The House Labor Committee voted yesterday, with little debate, to approve a bill that would allow home-based child-care providers to unionize and require the state to negotiate with them over the terms of their work.

The proposal does not limit what could be negotiated. But it does declare that the providers, generally women, are not "employees of the state for any purpose" and also bars them from striking.

According to this press release regarding the "Family Child Care Providers Business Opportunity Act, the Act:
would allow certified and non-certified child-care providers who participate in the Starting RIght Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to collectively bargain with the state over the terms and conditions imposed upon them through state regulations. CCAP is a state program that provides subsidies to working families for child-care.

The legislation, which is supported by the child-care providers, is a compromise that would give them some bargaining power over the many regulations affecting their industry, without classifying them as state employees. The legislation is the results of months of conversations between the caregivers, legislators and the New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, which has been providing support for the workers’ efforts.

It appears to be a real compromise in that it allows union membership to grow, but keeps them from being state workers. Now, whether or not the workers actually have to unionize to achieve their goals is another matter entirely, but the fact is that they have seized upon just that as the best way to organize and legitimize their collective power. With a heavy Democrat, pro-union legislature, was there ever any doubt that they would eventually get the support they requested? At least we can be thankful they won't be government employees!


Gov. Carcieri has changed his mind. In previous statements he seemed to allow that the child care workers had every right to unionize, but they shouldn't be considered state employees. With the latter no longer looming, he's focusing on the overt union power grab that is going on.
Governor Carcieri yesterday reiterated his plans to veto legislation that would allow home-based child-care providers to unionize calling it a "full-scale assault on Rhode Island taxpayers by the unions."

"It's not about what is best for the taxpayers or for the kids," the Republican governor said in a statement. "It's really about the power of labor unions in the State House. The union behind this legislation cares about one thing: increasing membership and dues."

That's probably true. The Governor will try to veto the bill, but it will eventually be pass into law with so much legislative support. Just another example of who holds the power in the state. It's not the legislature, its the unions. Keep that in mind when the General Assembly offers its version of pension reform. Don't expect too much.