No Authority to Arrest SLRB Election Watchers, Say State Police

There would have been no justification to arrest taxpayer advocates for watching the proceedings of the child-care provider unionization election conducted by the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB), says a spokesman for the state police.

In late October, the SLRB held elections at which child care providers whose clients receive state subsidies could vote to unionize under the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  The polling place moved to six different locations across the state over the course of four days and were open from between one and four hours at each location.

At multiple locations, police from state and local forces told volunteers whom the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity had organized to observe the election that they could not come within 200 feet of the polling place.  In some instances, according to volunteers, that distance was so far as to prevent their seeing people enter and exit the building.

The Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, states that the SLRB did not respond to multiple requests, prior to the election, to clarify the rules.  The board had also rebuffed the Center’s petitions to clarify the language on the ballot as well as to postpone the election until after related rulings expected in the coming months from the U.S. Supreme Court, citing a lack of standing for the organization.

Monique Chartier, a contributor to the Ocean State Current, reports that a state trooper threatened her with arrest for being too close to the building at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) Flanagan Campus polling place.  Another volunteer, who had arrived before the trooper and was therefore able to remain in the building during the hour of voting, told the Center that the trooper had told her, as she left, that she would be arrested if she appeared at any other voting places.  She was successfully “intimidated,” she said.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Winquist says there would have been no justification for arresting observers.  “I don’t think them being in a certain area and observing is an issue,” he told the Current. 

According to Winquist, at the request of the SLRB, the task of the State Police was to ensure the integrity of the ballots and to make sure that nobody interfered with the voting.  Specific instructions for the election were given to the policemen on the scene by SLRB Administrator Robyn Golden.  The State Police did not conduct an independent review of their authority for such elections.

The Current’s review of statewide election law and SLRB regulations found that, in most cases, electioneering (or the attempt to influence votes) is permitted at distances greater than 50 feet from the polling place, with police authorized to “preserve order” within 200 feet.  For its elections, the SLRB expands the electioneering boundary to 200 feet.

Lt. Colonel Winquist says he has no report of any volunteers engaged in electioneering or attempting to interfere, but that one of them (presumably Chartier) was “persistent on getting closer and closer.”

After the votes had been counted, 409 of the 539 eligible voters (76%) had cast ballots, with 390 (95%) voting to unionize.  According to the Center for Freedom & Prosperity, parent organization of the Ocean State Current, those numbers far exceed not only the participation observed by volunteers, but also the final results in other states.

Jennifer Parrish, a child-care provider from Minnesota who has organized against unionization and traveled to Rhode Island prior to the election for informational sessions with the Center, tells the Current that percentages in other states are less than half that in Rhode Island, even where the election was conducted by mail-in ballot.

Volunteers at other locations in Rhode Island were told that the poll workers at the election were provided by the SEIU, with oversight from the SLRB’s Golden.  After the election, Golden told the Providence Journal that “the SEIU is paying for the entire process.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in The Ocean State Current, including text, graphics, images, and information are solely those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of The Current, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, or its members or staff. The Current cannot be held responsible for information posted or provided by third-party sources. Readers are encouraged to fact check any information on this web site with other sources.

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