I’ll admit that I’m surprised by this, as Katherine Gregg reports it in the Providence Journal:
Public-employee unions scored one victory after another Wednesday night when the Senate Labor Committee — including a senator who doubles as vice president of the National Education Association of Rhode Island — approved a swath of bills vehemently opposed by cities and towns to indefinitely lock in expired labor contracts and mandate a 42-hour overtime threshold for firefighters.
In little more than an hour, the committee chaired by Sen. Frank Ciccone — a paid consultant to an arm of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents state and municipal employees — held hearings and then voted the same night on five top-priority bills for organized labor.
In short: the bills now headed to the full Senate for likely votes next week would indefinitely extend expired police, firefighter, municipal employee and teacher contracts and eliminate an exemption in the state’s overtime law and instead mandate time-and-a-half pay for firefighters after an average 42-hour week.
Especially with the firefighter overtime bill, I expected the General Assembly to do the ol’ your-turn-my-turn routine, wherein one chamber passes terrible legislation that a powerful special interest or voting bloc wants one year, and the other kills it, with the two switching place the following year.
How does one interpret this outcome, especially with such a blunt show of force (as evidenced by the rapid hearing and vote as well as the refusal of obviously conflicted legislators to recuse)? It think there are basically two factors in play, and no matter how much weight individual legislators might give to each one, a third consideration is that it’s better to slap taxpayers in the face with 18 months for them to forget the feeling before the next election.
First, with the progressives surging in enthusiasm and starting to play something of the please-don’t-run-a-spoiler role the unions have long played, non-progressive legislators want to buy the goodwill of their long-time labor allies. The labor union organizers, themselves, tend to align with far-left progressives, but the members not so much, and it will be difficult for the radicals who run the unions to explain to their members why they ought to endorse primary candidates against those who just gave them such nice gifts.
Second, as I noted this morning, the signs are that Rhode Island’s economic recovery, such as it’s been, is coming to an end. If we see an economic downturn during before the next election, labor unions will be awfully happy that they can just sit on their contracts until the storm is over. (Whether the next economic storm to hit the Ocean State will ever end is a different question.) The General Assembly can’t count on continued economic growth to make the question of leverage in contract negotiations mostly academic.
Of course, all of this leaves aside the question of what the state and municipalities will do if fiscally frightening events should come to pass. My bet would be that they’re taking the attitude that they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it. The likelihood of the near future is that we’ll have reason to see how extremely callous it was of Democrat Senator Frank Lombardi of Cranston to say: “I need to see a cause and effect that, if we pass this, then the municipalities go bankrupt because of it. I just don’t see that.”
Set your timers for the inevitable, “How was I supposed to know.”
Featured image: Rhode Island labor leader George Nee.