Frank J. Montanaro Sr., a former president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and Rhode Island's Democratic National Committeeman, died Tuesday.
Montanaro's death at age 83 was confirmed by Scott Duhamel, a fellow member of the State Labor Relations Board.
"I knew him to be a strong and firm leader," who knew labor law inside out, Duhamel said. "He ruled according to the rules. He knew cases. He knew everything."
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, in a a statement, said, “Mr. Montanaro was a friend and a well-respected member of our community. He had a long and distinguished career of fighting for workers’ rights. Frank was a true firefighter – he cared about people, protected them, and worked to help them better support their families. His passing creates a loss for so many people who loved him and relied upon him. He will be sorely missed in Cranston and throughout our state.”
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said, "Frank devoted a lifetime to public service. He was a passionate advocate for working families, and his efforts have helped to improve conditions for countless working Rhode Islanders. I was proud to call Frank a friend. The thoughts and prayers of the Senate are with Madeline and the entire Montanaro family during this difficult time.”
Governor Gina Raimondo said, "Andy and I send our thoughts and prayers to Frank's family. Frank was a giant in Rhode Island and a fierce advocate for working families. His service as a firefighter, President of the AFL-CIO and party leader will leave a lasting impression on the state he loved."
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, whose brother Paul is president of the Rhode Island Association of Firefighters, said, “I am deeply saddened by Frank’s passing, but grateful for his many years of friendship, support, and counsel. He was a powerful, passionate advocate for working men and women. Frank was a man of action. His service as a firefighter, labor leader, and advocate for the interests of workers made a tremendous impact on Rhode Island. We send our deepest condolences to the entire Montanaro family.”
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse added, “A great Rhode Islander, a local and national labor leader, and a man beloved by friends and firefighters everywhere, Frank Montanaro, has passed away. He was a loyal and unwavering friend, and a firm and principled adversary. My condolences go to his dear family and his many friends.”
Montanaro began his labor career while serving on the Cranston Fire Department.
"During his fire service career, Mr. Montanaro became active in his local Union, Local 1363 of the International Association of Firefighters, and was elected as its Vice-President in 1961," according to his biography on the State Labor Relations Board. "In 1963, he was elected President of the Local, an office he held until his retirement from the Department."
"Mr. Montanaro was first elected as President of the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters in 1972, a position he held until his retirement in 2011. In 1976, Mr. Montanaro became a member of the Executive Board of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, and in 1982 he was appointed as a member of its Executive Committee. In 1992, Mr. Montanaro was elected to the position of President of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, and continued to hold that position until his retirement in 2011."
In 2016, Montanaro was named president emeritus of the RI AFL-CIO.
“Frank was a man of incredible spirit and humor, and his passion for service was matched by his dedication as a former firefighter, a local and national union leader, a devoted Democrat, and a first-ever member of Rhode Island’s Electoral College," said state Democratic Chairman Joseph McNamara. "What he gave to our unions and our union workers, to this party, and to public service will be long remembered and greatly missed. We extend our prayers and deepest sympathy to his widow, Madeline, son Frank Jr., his three daughters, and their families, during this most difficult time.”
Montanaro was the father of Frank Montanaro Jr., head of the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Legislative Services. Montanaro Jr. has been under scrutiny for free tuition from Rhode Island College, first reported by WPRI-TV.
Montanaro Sr. had been ill following a recent car accident.
In 2016, a Providence Journal story reported that Montanaro helped spark more lucrative benefits for firefighters in communities around the state through his union efforts in Cranston.
He defended the changes, telling the newspaper, "I think the collective bargaining agreements for firefighters in this state meet exactly what those people deserve," he says, 35 years retired and living in a modest Cranston home. "The type of job that they have, the number of hours they have to work, the conditions that they work under -- their contracts justify the amount of money and benefits that they receive."