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How Unions Screw Each Other

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Above: Members of UNITE-HERE Local 217

I know the Rhode Island story everyone wants to discuss is the death of Providence’s ex-scumbag mayor Buddy Cianci. Who will teach our children how to ride of wave of rape, kidnapping, and graft to national fame now? He will be laying in state at the Providence City Hall next week if you want to go pay your respects and drop a bag of cash in the coffin for old time’s sake.

But a detail in this story of our governor securing a Providence tax break for a hotel development brings up to me a more interesting and useful issue: how most unions really suck at solidarity with each other.

The tax-stabilization agreement languished in the City Council for several months as private labor unions publicly sparred over the terms of the deal. On one side, the construction trades painted the hotel project as a significant job creator that will pour millions of dollars into the local economy. On the other side was Unite Here Local 217, the local hotel workers’ union, which wanted the Procaccianti Group to commit to staffing their hotel with union members.

Raimondo confirmed what was widely whispered in City Hall circles over the last few months: she helped nudge the project along.

She said she made a personal phone call to Council President Luis Aponte. Others on her staff called members of the City Council Finance Committee on the day they voted to send the deal to the full council. (Three of the Finance Committee’s five members work in state government; another works for the hotel workers’ union.)

Guess which union lost? That’s right, it was UNITE-HERE. The back story here is that the Laborers union really wanted the hotel because it wanted the construction jobs. UNITE-HERE wanted the hotel too, but it wanted union jobs and it wanted a $14.25 minimum wage tied to inflation. Now, you’d think that the two unions could come together here. But the company said it wouldn’t build the hotel with that wage. And it wouldn’t build it without the tax break. So LIUNA stuck the shiv into UNITE-HERE. It gave the its support for the tax break. It also, behind the scenes, gave its support to the Rhode Island law banning municipalities from setting their own minimum wages, a law Rhode Island saw fit to borrow from Oklahoma. LIUNA and most of the Rhode Island building trades are mostly made up of white people. UNITE-HERE is heavily Latino and African-American. You can make the connections as to one big reason why solidarity does not exist here.

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