Rhode Island organized labor leaders are asking the General Assembly to override Gov. Gina Raimondo’s veto of legislation that would have kept public employee and teacher collective bargaining contracts in effect while a new contract is under negotiation.
Called the “continuing contract” measure, it won overwhelming approval in both House and Senate by margins large enough to overturn Raimondo’s veto.
Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest state employee union, today asked members to contact their lawmakers and urge them to support a veto override. The message was sent to members by J. Michael Downey, Council 94 president.
The Assembly is slated to meet on September 19th to deal with unfinished business from the 2017 session that ended with a dispute between House and Senate leadership that held up approval of the state budget for about a month.
House Speaker Nick Mattiello, D-Cranston, has met with labor leaders to discuss the issue, including state AFL-CIO President George Nee, and Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association – Rhode Island, the big teachers union, according to Larry Berman, the speaker’s spokesman.
The issue pitted organized labor versus the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, which represents some mayors and town councils around the state. In her veto message, the governor said she wanted to protect taxpayers from being locked in to contract rules they can’t afford.
But labor leaders said all the measure does is require both sides in a protracted contract dispute to keep negotiating until an agreement is reached. The terms of the previous contract would remain in effect until that happens.
From a political calculus, Assembly Democrats seek union support in elections, so the override would likely be approved. Mattiello has said he supports the continuing contract provision, but has made no commitment to bring the legislation to the floor during the September session. With an expected session in November to consider legislation to support a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox, lawmakers could wait until then to deal with the override.
“This shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone,” said Walsh. “This bill is just standard labor relations procedure which had been in effect for more than 40 years in Rhode Island, until a court decision changed that.”