On March 31, now known as César Chávez Day, George Nee (OPEIU, pictured on the left), president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, took a look back on the work he did with Chávez (pictured far right), the inspirational labor leader, to help organize the grape boycott for the United Farm Workers (UFW) In 1969. Nee decided to leave Boston College to assist Chávez and UFW in their efforts. He helped to organize the 1,000-man march through the California fruit and vegetable countryside. The successful conclusion of the grape boycott then launched Nee into a lifetime in the labor and civil rights movements, and he has been serving as president of the state federation since 2009. When Chávez passed away in 1993, Nee was a pallbearer at his funeral.
On Wednesday, the White House released a proclamation officially announcing March 31 as César Chávez Day.
“I was proud to place a bust of César Chávez in the Oval Office, so that no one who enters that historic room may forget the powerful truths his farm worker hands imparted,” said President Biden in the proclamation. “I call upon all Americans to observe this day as a day of service and learning, with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor César Chávez’s enduring legacy.”
The 2020 election results in Rhode Island demonstrated a growing sentiment among voters for a stronger focus on moving the state towards a Green Economy. In the weeks after the election conversations occurred between labor, environmental, and political leaders across the state and the Climate Jobs Rhode Island Group was formed.
Visit Website for more information: http://climatejobsri.org/
For immediate release:
September 22, 2020
Rhode Island AFL-CIO Endorses Ballot Question Changing the Official Name of the State of Rhode Island
Providence, RI - On Monday, September 21, 2020, the executive board of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO unanimously voted to endorse the proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution, dropping the phrase “ and Providence Plantations” from the official state name. The 80,000 member AFL-CIO is the largest labor organization in the state, representing working men and women in every community in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee said, “It is time for Rhode Island to remove the hurtful references to plantations in the official state name. Part of the mission of the AFL-CIO is to “vanquish oppression, privation and cruelty in all their forms” and one of those forms is embedded in the very name of our state. As working people, we cherish the idea of solidarity and take seriously the idea that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” As the entire country struggles to come to terms with the original sin of slavery in America, we as union members must also do our part. This is an important step in the right direction.”
Rhode Island AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Crowley said, “Black Lives Matter is not just a slogan: it is a call to action. As we identify the elements of structural racism that are holding us back as a country and as a state, we are committed to tearing down those structures that reinforce inequality and discrimination. It’s about more than a name on stationary – it is about standing together with all our sisters and brothers, in every community, and moving our state forward.”
The Rhode Island AFL-CIO is calling upon all members, and all working families, to vote YES on Question 1 to support the changing of the official name of the state on November 3.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives and the Rhode Island economy. No one understands that better than Rhode Island’s working people. For too many of us still working on the front lines of this pandemic, simply going to work could mean getting sick or even losing our lives. Hundreds of thousands of workers in Rhode Island are now unemployed as this public health crisis has ripped across our state and our country.
It is crucial that our elected leaders at every level of government act to save our state, save our economy and save workers’ lives. That’s why the Rhode Island AFL-CIO is joining a national day of action with unions in all 50 states on June 3rd. Labor’s “Workers First Caravan” launches at 3:00 PM at the Providence Post Office on Corliss Street. We demand action from our elected leaders before this crisis pushes our nation and our state past the point of no return.
We need to keep all workers safe and healthy on the job by demanding government agencies charged with keeping us safe at work do their job and function properly. Front-line workers, like the clerks at local supermarkets, health care workers in hospitals and congregate care settings, UPS drivers, postal workers, and state workers at places like the Rhode Island Veterans Home are heroically putting their health at risk every single day. We will stand up and say with conviction that workers are essential, not expendable.
In many ways, Rhode Island’s elected officials are setting a positive example for the rest of the country. Governor Gina Raimondo’s steady leadership has helped calm nerves even while she has taken bold steps to keeping public education going through distance learning. RIDOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott has repeatedly reassured the public and DLT Director Scott Jensen has led his agency to perform at the highest level for our unemployed workers. And behind them stand thousands of state workers, daily doing their duty to keep us healthy and safe.
However, while Rhode Island is going through this health crisis, too many people, especially those that work in our local hospitality and restaurant industry, are losing their health insurance. We cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy workforce. That means ensuring the federal government provides 100% federal payment support to extend COBRA. We need to expand affordable health care, not eliminate it.
With the highest number of unemployed Americans since the Great Depression, we need to provide good jobs for all workers. This crisis is a wake-up call to make long overdue investments in a key pillar of the economy: our infrastructure. Rhode Island Building Trades men and women answered the call of duty, working around the clock adding additional health care beds at facilities like the Rhode Island Convention Center. There is no better time than now to reinvest in the vital infrastructure we need to protect our country and boost the creation of good jobs. Now more than ever, we need shovel ready projects, which means investing in new school construction projects in communities like Newport, Cranston, Warwick, and Cumberland, and others.
We demand that our elected leaders—at every level of government—step up during this time of unprecedented challenge. They must do the right thing for Rhode Island’s workers and our families. We demand the government do everything in its power to ensure sustainable supply lines of personal protective equipment for front line workers. This is a moment that demands clear action and common purpose. Any meaningful relief and recovery will require that our government prioritize workers and their families.
Workers built America. We keep this nation running every day and we will rebuild America’s prosperity. Now, we must stand up and demand action from our government.
Lawyers, Guns and Money: Organized Labor and COVID-19: A Conversation
This post is a conversation between myself and Patrick Crowley, Secretary-Treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and staffer for the National Education Association-Rhode Island, about organized labor and the response to COVID-19.
EL: The first bailout provided at least some workers with $1200 per person. But that’s far less than is needed for people to survive when they are not working. What does organized labor think the next bailout should entail?
PC:You’re right, but that’s not all it did. On the positive side, and one I wish got more attention, are provisions protecting collective bargaining and actually encourage union organizing. Section 4003 of the CARES Act says that for loans to mid sized companies from the Fed, that is between 500 and 10,000 workers, “The borrower will not abrogate existing collective bargaining agreements for the loan duration and for two years after completing loan repayment, and will remain neutral in any union organizing effort for the loan duration.” I’m not claiming that this provision is a 21st Century Section 7A of the National Industrial Recovery Act, but it is something, and the next package should have more like it.
On the negative side, as Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has highlighted, the CARES Act created a loophole for certain millionaires giving them a massive tax cut. In the next package, we need to make sure we don’t have any more of this.
In other words, the next bailout needs to be much more worker centered.
There should be a 100% federal subsidy for cobra payments for workers who lose their employer based health insurance.
Congress needs to mandate OSHA issue emergency standards protecting all workers from infectious disease.
If there are any payments or loans to employers, it must be contingent on keeping people on the payroll and making employers continue to pay into pension plans and health and welfare funds.
There needs to be direct and substantial payments to state and local governments to make up for lost tax revenue, keeping public schools, public higher education, and other state services open and employing workers.
And finally, there needs to be money to finally start rebuilding our infrastructure. Here in Rhode Island, there is a real concern that the private construction market will simply dry up – so the federal government needs to step in. Rhode Island voters passed a substantial bond measure in 2018 to rebuild Rhode Island’s crumbling public schools. The Feds need to make sure that those projects and more like them move forward.
Those might be heavy lifts given the make up of Congress, but in reality, these are just minimum steps.
EL: The media rarely if ever reports on how organized labor fights in Congress for a better life for working people. What is the American labor movement generally and the Rhode Island labor movement specifically doing to place these issues at the top of politicians’ agendas? And how are they responding to the needs of labor in this terrible time?
PC: I’ve got to give the national AFL-CIO credit for working to get the message out, despite the obstacles of dealing with the corporate media. President Trumka has been featured in a number of interviews on CNBC, Fox Business News, and affiliated organizations like the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) are using social media and other channels to raise the alarm about how the virus is attacking minority communities at disproportionate rates. The AFL-CIO is sending out daily briefs that I would encourage your readers to sign up for.
Here in Rhode Island, the state federation has been holding conference calls for local labor leaders every other day so our leaders, many of whom are still rank-n-file workers, can ask questions of the state’s political leaders. We’ve had Governor Raimondo join us twice, the State Treasurer, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Senate President and our entire congressional delegation. Our leaders have been able to ask questions, sometimes pretty tough ones, about what steps the government has taken to address the crisis. It’s also been a chance to triage problems that have come up for our members. For example, in the early days of the crisis, there was a real concern that one of our hospital chains was going to start furloughing front line health care workers because they were hemorrhaging money after elective procedures were cancelled, cutting off a significant revenue stream. As a result of these calls, labor leaders were able to convince political leaders to investigate so folks could keep working.
Similarly, there is a non-union food processing plant in Rhode Island that some of our activists have been in contact with before the crisis hit. The company was not responding appropriately to social distancing guidelines so the activists were able to use the local media to help bring attention to the situation.
EL: One thing we are seeing in Rhode Island and around the nation is that low-income workers, often people of color, have far higher rates of exposure to COVID-19 than the wealthy. In Rhode Island, a remarkable 45 percent of cases are in the Latino population, a group which makes up only 16 percent of the state. Given that the modern union movement is increasingly made up of people of color and that areas of growth in recent years have largely concentrated with these workers, what do you think this public health crisis says about the relationship between poverty and disease in the United States and how can the labor movement be a leader in creating a more equitable public health system in this nation?
PC: As your question came in via email I was on the phone with one of the unions representing nursing home workers here in Rhode Island. The union is increasingly concerned how the crisis is affecting their members in this industry right now – mostly women of color, many of whom are immigrants from Central America and Africa. One of their shop floor leaders was just placed in quarantine because of a suspected exposure to COVID-19.
SEIU 1199, prior to the crisis, was trying to get legislation passed that would establish a safe staffing ratio for nursing home workers. Rhode Island is the only New England state without a formal standard or law that mandates how many residents a nursing home worker can be responsible for caring for on a shift. After the crisis started, they didn’t let up, and released a report showing how the Rhode Island nursing home industry profits by overworking the employees and under serving the residents. We’ve taken part in several caravan rallies to try and get their workers PPE and hazard pay, with some success. There are more caravans scheduled for this week.
To me, this crisis shows how we have subsidized parts of middle class life by intentionally under paying certain groups of workers – workers labor reporter Sarah Jaffe describes as employed in “Care Work.” So if the labor movement is to be a leader, we need to make clear to the public that the relationship to disease and poverty is related to the gendered and racialized nature of care work. As a movement, we need to be intentional about organizing care workers. But one thing I hope that comes out of this is a real discussion about what that organizing looks like.
EL: Given the catastrophic nature of COVID-19 to our economy and to our sense of health and safety in a globalized world, what do you think that organizing might look like? What are the key lessons we need to learn from this crisis in terms of the economy, work, and organizing?
PC: I’d like to be positive and think that this will start to reorient our thinking towards seeing the essential nature of all workers but the reality is that is not going to happen in a country dominated by wealth and corrupted by corporate power. However, something I’ve seen in Rhode Island does give me hope. Union members in many different industries, but especially lower paid jobs like food service, and health care, are really starting to understand that their bosses truly do not give a damn if they live or die, and are fighting back, through their unions. Sure, it might be small steps….but it is progress.
Just before the crisis, we held a meeting at our office in Providence with a number of organizers from various unions in Rhode Island to start to think about organizing in a more coordinated way. We are at about 18% union density in the state, and we talked about setting an ambitious goal of getting us up to 25% and what would it take to get there. One lesson from the current crisis is that when we need to we can truly work together not as individual unions but as one movement. That spirit is going to need to continue.
I want to work towards a way were we are forming new unions from scratch – and create the space to be able to explore how to do that. The corporate class isn’t the only entity with the ability to act as incubators of new ideas. Some will fail, and spectacularly so. But our movement will grow larger and stronger with every attempt. I think it will be cool, and bring a lot of energy to our ranks, to see new unions grow from nothing into reality. I think we need to reconstruct some alliances between union organizers, academics, lawyers, in ways that explore what some next steps can and should look like. The labor movement looked different when I started as a grunt organizer 25 years ago than it does today and we need to be prepared for it to look very different 25 from years from now – but that doesn’t mean we can be intentional as well as experiential in what we do.
March 31 is Cesar Chavez day. President George Nee used to work for Chavez and the UFW years ago. Download the link to read an essay he wrote about his time working with Cesar Chavez.
The Providence Journal
By Katie Mulvaney
Journal Staff Writer Posted Mar 3, 2020 at 11:24 AM
PROVIDENCE -- Longtime teachers-union lobbyist Patrick Crowley was unanimously elected as the next secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, representing nearly 80,000 workers in diverse industries across the state.
In that capacity, he will serve as the number two person behind R.I. AFL-CIO President George Nee.
He succeeded Maureen Martin, who is retiring after 10 years as secretary-treasurer. The election, in which Crowley was not contested, took place Feb. 24.
Crowley said he will fill out the remaining two years of Martin’s four-year term. Previously, he served on the executive board.
Crowley said his duties in the part-time role will be to help ensure the organization maintain a strong financial position, and working with affiliates to organize new members.
Currently, 19 percent of Rhode Island workers are unionized, Crowley said.
“There’s no reason we can’t get that to 25 percent in the near future. And that’s what I will work to do.
Crowley has dedicated 25 years in the labor movement, the last 15 at the National Education Association Rhode Island, where he now serves as its chief lobbyist as the assistant executive director in government relations.
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As Women’s History Month comes to an end, it is a time to honor the outstanding achievements of women throughout history and celebrate the work that remains ongoing through various movements and organizations.
One such movement, #MeToo, was founded by Tarana Burke. Ms. Burke appeared at Roger Williams University before an enthusiastic audience where she explained: “The movement is about supporting and healing survivors, about organizing communities to become safe places, and about changing the culture of gender-based violence” (news, Feb. 14). It is not, she emphasized, about “taking down men,” but instead, it focuses on “making it safe for people to speak their truth.”
As for organizations, Time’s Up is working to change culture, companies, and laws to increase women’s safety, equity, and power at work. Established last year by Hollywood celebrities in response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it has raised more than $22 million for its legal defense fund to support lower-income women and men seeking justice for sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
Several decades before the #MeToo and Time’s Up initiatives, another group of women was equally committed to addressing the needs of women in the workplace. Their goal was to create an organization focused on making unions more responsive to the needs of working women by providing a space for them to develop programs to help deal with their concerns. The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) is an affiliate of both the local and national AFL-CIO with local branches in states all over the country, including Rhode Island.
Both the national and state chapters of CLUW have joined with other groups committed to eradicating discrimination, but women know that there is much more work to do in this regard. To that end, CLUW is conducting and co-sponsoring various marches and peaceful demonstrations across the United States. Through these endeavors and public displays of solidarity, CLUW anticipates getting closer to the gender parity women have never experienced but have always deserved.
After all, as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.”
Maureen Martin is president of the Rhode Island chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.
A joint letter from SEIU, District 1199, RIFTHP, UNAP, IAM and the Rhode Island AFL-CIO has been sent to Governor Raimondo, Senate President Ruggerio, and House Speaker Mattiello urging a significant increase in pay for Direct Service Providers who provide services and care to close to 4,000 Rhode Islanders living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Please see attached letter and stand with our brothers and sisters who provide this critical service.
PROVIDENCE RI. Thursday, November 15, 2018—The World Peace Prize has come to the smallest State in America.
Presently, the World Peace Prize— founded in 1989 and headquartered in Seoul, South Korea—is focusing on the huge contribution the Labor Movement has made to equality, justice and peace, not only nationally but globally.
And on Thursday, November 15, the World Peace Prize," Roving Ambassador for Peace," was presented to George Nee, noted Labor Leader, and President of Rhode Island AFL-CIO.
The presentation ceremony was chaired by Barbara Flaherty, Judge and Corporate Manager, World Peace Prize and Executive Vice President of the Capitol Hill-base Irish National Caucus. She welcomed the large turn-out in the Rhode Island Convention Center and introduced both Fr. Sean McManus, Chief Judge, World Peace Prize, and President of the Irish National Caucus.
In his remarks, Fr. Mc Manus said:" As new Judges based in the Nation's Capital, we wanted to make a signature innovation to the World Peace Prize: to squarely place the American Labor Movement in the category of those who work for peace. Labor leaders who spend their entire lives working in solidarity for justice for working men and women are indeed working for peace—not only nationally but also globally. Hence, Labor leaders are eminently qualified to be candidates for the World Peace Prize of "Roving Ambassador for Peace. Of course, a memorable quote by Pope John Paul II, from one of his great Encyclicals helped us to make the case. Reflecting on the maxim "peace is the fruit of justice," the pope declared: “Today, one could say, with the same exactness and the same power of biblical inspiration peace is the fruit of solidarity.” (“Solicitude for social concerns”). 39. 1988.
President Nee expressed deep appreciation for receiving the Prize, and great humility, stating he was accepting it on behalf of all members of the AFL-CIO in Rhode Island. He also paid homage to his "patron Saint," the late famed Cesar Chavez, for whom he worked in earlier days. According to Fr. McManus, "George Nee is the quintessential, totally authentic Labor leader. He is a most impressive man. Cesar Chavez would be proud of him, and so should the entire Labor Movement in America."
As is now, the practice of the Irish National Caucus at the end of these events, the Irish American Peace Prize is also presented to a worthy recipient—one who has shown steadfastness in standing up for equality, justice and peace in Ireland. This time the recipient was George McLaughlin of Providence. Mr. Mc Laughlin is a longtime campaigner for justice in The North/Northern Ireland. He is most recently known for his good work in arranging to erect a tombstone in Philadelphia for Robert Cranston and Thomas Darragh, two of the Fenian heroes to escaped from the Australian penal colony on the good ship Catalpa in 1876.
CAPITOL HILL. August 28, 2018—For the first time a Rhode Island Labor leader will be honored with the World Peace Prize.
The World Peace Prize Awarding Council (WPPAC) has announced that George Nee president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, will receive the prestigious prize of "Roving Ambassador for Peace."
The presentation ceremony will take place on Thursday, November 15, 2018, 2:30-4:30 PM, Rhode Island Convention Center, 1 Sabin Street. Providence, RI 02903.
World Leader and Master Planner, Rev. Dr. Han Min Su, founded the World Peace Prize in Seoul, South Korea, in 1989. Dr. Han is a Presbyterian Minister.
Dr. Han said: “Our Washington office, headed by Fr. Sean Mc Manus and Barbara Flaherty of the Irish National Caucus, nominated the Honorable George Nee. Our 14-member Board of International and Interfaith judges unanimously selected Mr.Nee. Our Board is comprised of representatives of the world’s nine major religions: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Russian Orthodox, and Zoroastrianism. We congratulate Mr. Nee while also knowing that his acceptance honors our noble idea and mission of world peace.”
Fr. Sean Mc Manus — President of the Capitol Hill-based Irish National Caucus and Chief Judge of the World Peace Prize Awarding Council (WPPAC)— said: “I have the honor of being the Chief Judge of the World Peace Prize Awarding Council (headquartered in Seoul, South Korea).
We were pleased to be able to propose George Nee because of the intrinsic link between justice and peace: peace is, indeed, the fruit of justice. Labor Leaders who spend their entire lives working in solidarity for justice for working men and women are, indeed , working for peace—not only nationally but also globally. Hence, Labor leaders — and George Nee in particular—are eminently qualified to be candidates for the World Peace Prize of Roving Ambassador for Peace. Furthermore, our Peace Prizes encourage members of the Labor Movement to positively think of themselves as not just fighters for justice but as peace builders as well. I believe this gives an important dimension to Labor's self-understanding, self-image, and self-identity. And, I urge all members of the Labor Movement to embrace it —as I know George Nee does. So, too, does the national president of the AFL-CIO, the great Richard L. Trumka."
Mr. Nee said: “I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this prestigious prize. The recognition by the World Peace Prize Awarding Council that there is an inextricable link between the work of the Labor movement in its historic struggle for economic justice for all workers and peace will encourage increased activities for a more peaceful and just world.”
The Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council Generates Record Funds for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State at its Eighth Annual Providence Bruins Hockey Night.
Enjoying a Providence Bruins Game with fellow union members and their families has become an annual and most important tradition for the Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council and the RI AFL-CIO. Not only is it a great night out, but it’s also an essential way for local tradesmen and women to help support the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State. (BBBSOS)
For the eighth year in a row, the Rhode Island Building Trades, along with its signatory contractors and partners, including the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, has hosted its annual Providence Bruins-RI Building Trades Hockey Night in support of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State. Sunday’s game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms raised a record $2,350.00! More than 1,200 tickets were sold, with $2 from every ticket going directly to the BBBSOS. More than a hundred BBBSOS mentors and their ‘littles’ also enjoyed the exciting hockey game, with great lower level seats and a free P-Bruins hat.
A special check presentation took place on the ice during the game’s first intermission, paying tribute to the hardworking men and women of the Rhode Island Building Trades, the RI AFL-CIO and their support of BBBSOS. Together they have raised more than $100-thousand dollars through various fundraising events.
“Our philanthropic union craftsmen and women care deeply about the charities they help support and the children and families who are served by these vital organizations,” stated Michael F. Sabitoni, RIBTC President. “They are our neighbors - our friends - our children’s friends - where we work and raise our own families. Collectively we know we can make a significant impact in helping to secure necessary funds BBBSOS depends upon every year in order to operate. That’s why this annual P-Bruins game has become an ever-growing tradition among the building trades and the RI AFL-CIO that we all look forward to.”
“We can’t thank the Rhode Island Building Trades and the entire labor community enough for their generous support hosting this successful fundraising event year after year,” emphasized Katje Alfonseca, BBBSOS Executive Director.