Rhode Island Working Families, the new progressive/labor advocacy group, has hired Chris Torres, an experienced organizer with past Ocean State experience, as its state director. Torres is slated to formally start his new job November 15.
Torres, a 2005 graduate of Brown University, is currently the national organizing director for United We Dream, an advocacy group for undocumented young people. The 32-year-old worked on Latino outreach efforts for US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and state Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Providence) in 2006. He also helped lead an Arizona recall campaign involving a law known as "show me your papers."
"I'm just super-excited to be coming back to Rhode Island," Torres told RIPR during an interview Thursday. "I love the state and could not have a better job. I'm going to wake up every day, thinking about families like my own, so this is really great."
Working Families is organizing in 10 states, and it points to the hiring of an experienced organizer such as Torres as a sign of its ability to make a local impact. The group claims credit for making Connecticut the first state to pass a $10.10 minimum wage and law guaranteeing paid sick days.
Working Families touts its work on behalf of candidates in some of the state in which it is active.
Asked if Working Families RI will be involved in legislative elections, Torres said, "First and foremost what we want to do at the Rhode Island Working Families Party is to first build a grassroots organization that is going to organize across the state for the values that matter to Rhode Island families. That means focusing more on the issues they care about and likely less on the electoral aspect of the work that we do."
Rhode Island has lacked a formal labor/progressive coalition since Ocean State Action folded a few years ago.
Torres said he expects Working Families RI to initially launch a listening effort to get a sense of top issues. "But if I had to sort of pick out issues that I think are most pressing to working families," he said, "it's definitely around the economy -- things like paid sick days, fair taxes, high-quality schools, as a place to start. But again, the work I derive, my energy and my power [comes from] engaging working families, and ensuring that their voices are being heard."
The groups backing Working Families RI include Teamsters Local 251, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, the United Auto Workers union, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, UniteHere Local 217, Demand Progress. and the Service Employees International Union 32bj.
Torres grew up in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. He said his heritage is Puerto Rican, although he was raised by a Dominican father. He declined to identify his salary for his new job.
Besides Rhode Island, Working Families has a presence in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.