“Requirement” Reconsidered in Relation to Labor Unions


The Providence Journal so liked its PolitiFact about John DePetro’s being wrong on a union requirement for the 195 land that Mark Reynolds went back for another bite via the news department yesterday:

Concerns about the misrepresentation of an economic development opportunity for Rhode Island have prompted the chairman of the 195 Redevelopment Commission to issue a public statement to emphasize that developers who pursue projects on the former Route 195 land are under no obligation to hire union laborers. 

“The 195 Redevelopment Commission does not have and has never had a requirement for developers to hire union approved contractors,” said the commission’s chairman, Joseph Azrack.

Having not done a thorough review of all of the relevant policy and law, I can’t say whether there’s some sly, maybe indirect, way in which DePetro is correct in substance, if not in immediate fact.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find such a catch, but then again, I wouldn’t be surprised not to find it.  The hoops that Rhode Island sets up for businesses and developers are so ridiculous that the addition of required unionization isn’t really necessary, even as it seems obvious that the state might do such a thing.

But then, turn back the newspaper a few pages, and read this article by Linda Borg:

A private emergency medical service claims that its employers, some of them Coventry firefighters, were threatened if the company provided coverage to the Coventry Fire District on an emergency basis.

In a letter by Carol Mansfield, CEO of Coastline Emergency Medical Services, Mansfield wrote, “as a result of deciding to help the residents of Coventry, we have gotten threats of harm to our personnel and equipment by the Union and its members …. The Union is forcing those firefighters [who work for Coastline] in MA and R.I. to resign. As an employer of over 20 employees, I cannot let my firefighter employees to lose their jobs with us…”

A fire district hires firefighters.  Largely because of labor’s big investments in state politicians, the union comes to see those as their jobs, and the organization’s reason for being is to protect those jobs and make them pay as well as possible.  If the people of the district can’t see their value and attempt to rein in the cost, then it would seem that the union wants to make their choice between the high costs and a dangerous lack of services.

My construction career never overlapped with any union workers, but some of my coworkers had had experience with cut power cords and pneumatic tubes and other damaged or missing equipment.  The goal of those incidents, obviously, was to drive up the cost of being a non-union carpenter on a site that the union wanted to claim as its property.

Does the 195 Commission require developers to use union labor (or to increase their costs to match, if not)?  The chairman says not.  But does DePetro’s misstatement (if it was that) really rate on the list of things about which Rhode Islanders must be informed?

  • Rhett Hardwick

    All states that I know of have a “prevailing wage” law, which basically requires union wage on all municipal, or state, funded projects. All of the statutes that I have looked at are about the same, or word for word, this suggests that the idea did not spring up among legislatures of their own accord. I don’t know about Rhode Island in particular, but many states also have a height requirement. Above a certain number of stories (4 comes to mind) union labor is required. That might be how the commission could get around saying that they don’t require it, I doubt there will be much low rise.