Building Trades Frustrated By Hotel Workers' Stance on Proposed Procaccianti Hotel

Jul 23, 2015

Members of UNITE HERE, Local 217, were outnumbered during the council hearing by Building Trades members.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

The Providence City Council's Finance Committee appeared unmoved Thursday night after dozens of Rhode Island Building Trades members urged the committee to approve a tax-stabilization agreement for the Procaccianti Group's proposed hotel on Fountain Street.

Although a vote was not expected during the meeting, boisterous Building Trades members appeared frustrated that concerns expressed by UNITE HERE, Local 217, have effectively slowed down the process.

"Why pick on this one -- we didn't even build yet -- when I got 50 percent unemployment in the Building Trades?" the union's president, Michael F. Sabitoni, asked reporters after the committee hearing. "There's 326 others they can go be knocking on the doors," in terms of other hotels in the state, "and they got a lot of work to do before they get to this one."

Although sharply outnumbered by Building Trade members, Local 217 representatives found a sympathetic ear for their concerns in City Council President Luis Aponte, who attended the Finance Committee meeting. Aponte said the hotel workers have a valid point in questioning what kind of jobs will be offered once the envisioned hotel is completed.

"We need, absolutely, the revenues," Aponte said after the meeting. "We absolutely need to see economic activity, but we also need to ensure that the jobs that we are subsidizing and the opportunities that we are subsidizing go to to Providence residents and help to expand that economic activity beyond the board room and the construction trades."

Aponte says he hopes the clashing labor factions can work out their differences by the time the council returns from its August break. He said a vote before then is unlikely.

Dozens of Building Trade members staged a show of force outside City Hall before the FinCom meeting.

The sharp nature of the dispute can be seen in how Ward 3 Councilman Kevin Jackson charged Laborers members 'walked off the job today ... over this [issue]," following an agreement to do pro bono work at the Billy Taylor House in Mount Hope.

Sabitoni denied union members walked off the job at the Billy Taylor House. "At this point, we're considering, in light of the fact of the plight we're in, how much more charitable [work] we can do," he said. "How much more can you ask people to go to work for free when you come to the council and ask them to pay people to go to work on projects such as this? So that's all that that was said. No one walked off any job."

A string of Building Trade members spoke in support of the proposed hotel, joined by state Senator Josh Miller (D-Cranston), the owner of a downtown restaurant; RI AFL-CIO President George Nee; and Providence Foundation head Dan Baudouin, among others.

The Cranston-based Procaccianti Group, a past target of criticism by Local 217, wants to raze the derelict Fogarty Building on Fountain Street and replace it with a nine-story extended-stay hotel. The company is seeking a 13-year tax-stabilization agreement, in which would taxes would be gradually phased in over time.