Truck Tolls: *Sigh* No, Peter and Gene, We Cannot Conclude that Truck Drivers Support Them

Every Thursday morning, as you probably know, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti hosts RIDOT Director Peter Alviti on the WPRO Morning News for a half hour plus segment. (Yeah, I know, I find it annoying, too.) Alviti takes questions from callers and spends a significant amount of air time promoting Governor Gina Raimondo’s wasteful, unnecessary, highly damaging RhodeWorks toll scheme.

On July 19, Alviti racheted it up a notch by involving his host. Following is the transcript of their on-air exchange. (Starts at Minute 04:35.)

Gene Valicenti: … This is the American Trucking Association and the RI Trucking Association. They represent the owners. Who represents the [truck] drivers?

Peter Alviti: The Teamsters union represents the drivers.

Valicenti: They may say, we represent the drivers, too. You have trucking concerns at large, we’ll stick right with that. But the Teamsters recognize the drivers per se, correct?

Alviti: Right, the Teamsters have supported this because their drivers are the ones that are behind the wheel of these vehicles and they want their drivers driving on safe bridges and roads, right? So they supported this from day one and actually, during the hearings for RhodeWorks spoke in favor of the RhodeWorks initiative.

Valicenti: The Teamsters, the truck drivers’ union, support this and spoke in favor of it.

Alviti: That’s correct, yes.

Valicenti: You’re putting your hand up, you swear and attest to that.

Alviti: No, well, their testimony is on file as part of the hearings … public hearings on this.

Valicenti: That’s an interesting note.

Alviti: Yes. (Chuckles.)

Question for you, esteemed reader: what conclusion does this exchange impel you towards? (We’ll give you a moment to think so as to not to prejudice your natural reaction.)

<Jeopardy music interlude>

Okay, here we go. You concluded from this exchange that truck drivers in Rhode Island support truck tolls, right? “Teamsters represent drivers. Teamsters support truck tolls. Therefore …” Sure, it’s a natural conclusion.

But then, if we keep thinking, the next logical question a lot of us have is, how many Rhode Island truck drivers – what percentage – does the Teamsters actually represent? Let’s be broad-minded and make that: what percentage of truck drivers are unionized in Rhode Island?

Extensive research failed to turn up either of these data points. In the process, the national rate of truck driver unionization turned up: it is 2% (two percent).

The Ocean State Current then contacted both RIDOT’s Peter Alviti and WPRO’s Gene Valicenti and requested this information. Gene Valicenti promptly returned the call but did not provide this information. He did subsequently say on air that Teamsters represent only a portion of truck drivers but again did not offer any percentages or corroborating data.

At the suggestion of Director Alviti’s office, the Ocean State Current attempted to reach RIDOT Chief Public Affairs Officer and spokesman Charles St. Martin. We left detailed messages for him on Thursday and Friday but received no response at all.

In the absence of any substantiating data, accordingly, the implication by Peter Alviti and Gene Valicenti that Rhode Island truck drivers support truck tolls is false and seriously misleading. (Sheesh, apparently the Raimondo administration’s truck-tolls-are-good ammo room is so cleaned out, they’ve had to resort to innuendo bordering on fantasy.)

On the important point itself, a quick calculation gives us an indication, if not the specific answer:

The national rate of all unionized workers is 10.7%, according to Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training (though this link pegs it even lower at 6.6%). RI’s overall unionization rate is 16.1%. This is 50.4% higher than the national rate. (Correct if this is wrong.)

The national unionization rate of truck drivers is 2%. Imputing from these figures, the percentage of unionized commercial truck drivers in Rhode Island would be approximately 3%.

Again, this is not the data point, it is simply a potential indication. But perhaps a telling one: if the national figure of unionized truck drivers is 2%, could the percentage in Rhode Island exceeds single digits? (Standing by to post the correct figure, Peter, Gene or anyone, if you’ve got it!)

Bigger picture now. Governor Gina Raimondo and RIDOT, mostly in the person of Director Peter Alviti, saturated the ramp-up, rollout and implementation of the unnecessary, highly damaging RhodeWorks toll scheme with gross misinformation and flat out lies, including most significantly, truck counts, which RIDOT themselves corrected downward not once but twice. Now that the national trucking organization has filed suit against her truck-only toll scheme, the Raimondo administration is increasingly desperate to prop up and defend her damaged, damaging new revenue stream.

The theatrical presentation by RIDOT Director Peter Alviti and WPRO’s Gene Valicenti transcribed above, devoid of any substantiating data, was clearly intended to do this by adding yet another piece of misinformation to RhodeWorks’ unsavory rollout: that truck drivers support truck tolls. As such, it was wholly unwelcome, detrimental to the debate about a major, controversial, onerous new revenue program and a real disservice to WPRO’s listeners and the state.

[Monique has been a contributor to the Ocean State Current and Anchor Rising for over ten years, has been volunteer spokesperson for the citizens advocacy anti-toll group for three+ years and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of last year.]

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