Organized labor has been beset in recent years with declining membership in the private sector and a corresponding drop in clout at the Rhode Island Statehouse. Unions have taken their lumps recently, but there were signs of a rebound during the recently adjourned General Assembly session.
Labor did not get nearly everything it wanted; building trades union leaders are unhappy that lawmakers did not approve requiring construction firms bidding on state projects worth $1 million or more to have a union apprenticeship program.
Yet labor did get an increase in the minimum wage by 25 cents, to $8 per hour. Temporary Disability Insurance was extended to provide a paid leave benefit to care for a newborn or sick family member.
More importantly, childcare workers were given the right to unionize and bargain collectively for the first time. This should lead to a more professional group of child care workers. Assembly Republicans have battled against this and some in the right-wing media have urged Gov . Lincoln Chafee to veto this legislation, as his predecessor, Republican Donald Carcieri did several years ago. (Carcieri said he vetoed it to protect taxpayers. Too bad he wasn’t thinking of taxpayers when he pushed the 38 Studios deal in the waning days of his administration.).
Republicans wonder why they are slouching towards irrelevancy in Rhode Island and other New England states. One reason surely is when they and their media enablers demean child care workers, most of whom are women, many of them minority women, by labeling them ``babysitters.’’
A babysitter is the teen next door who watches your kids for a few hours while you and your spouse take in dinner and a movie. A child care worker is responsible for the early childhood education and safety of the children of working parents, no small thing in modern society. Collective bargaining could give these workers better wages, professional development training and a shot at such benefits as 401 K savings programs.
The irony here is that some of the mainstream media outlets that use the sexist and derogatory term `babysitters’ to describe these workers have their own employees with union collective bargaining rights and contracts!
Taxpayers won’t feel much impact because the measure sent to Chafee’s desk specifically bars these workers from being classified as state employees. They will not be eligible for entry into the state health care system and they will not qualify for state pension benefits. Massachusetts and Connecticut have similar laws and the economy in both states is better than in R.I.
Except for anti-union zealots, a vocal yet small number of Rhode Islanders (If you think this is large number, ask yourself why many more union-endorsed candidates get elected in R.I. than Republicans), most thinking citizens know that there are some low-paid workers who could use access to collective bargaining and the dignity of a union job. These include such employees as fast-food workers and Wal-Mart clerks, many of whom are paid nowhere near a living wage and often lack health care benefits. When these national fast food and retail chains don’t provide health care benefits, guess who does? These people get sick and often go to hospital emergency rooms, where the costs are shuttled off taxpayers via such programs as Medicaid and RiteCare or get shifted to those of us who pay for private employer-based health insurance.
Fact is, when unions were stronger and represented more private-sector workers, just about every company of any size covered their employees with health insurance.