It’s been quite the ride for George Nee since he felt inspired to leave Boston College in 1969 to help organize the grape boycott for the United Farm Workers of America in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The decision would kick off a more than 50-year commitment to labor and the rights of workers.
Now the president of the Rhode Island AFl-CIO, a position he’s held since 2009 after joining the organization in 1983, George Nee is the recipient of this year’s Dante F. Mollo Labor United Award.
“When I think of what the Dante Mollo award represents — an individual who tirelessly fights for equal opportunity for all — there is no question it is George who embodies those traits,” says Cortney Nicolato, United Way of Rhode Island’s president and CEO. “His efforts throughout the years have made a difference for literally tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders and their families.”
George’s leadership of the Rhode Island labor community dates back to 1971. After the grape boycott proved successful, resulting in union contracts and improved conditions for farm workers, he came here to coordinate a lettuce boycott. Working alongside farm workers who spoke little English, George solidified the right to organize and the power of collective action as keys to allow hard-working people to take control of their economic futures.
A few years later, he organized a number of low-wage Rhode Island jewelry, clerical, and healthcare workers into a formidable group that would become the Service Employees International Union, Local 76. George would serve as its founding president from 1976 to 1983. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Working people have a right to have a voice everywhere decisions are made in Rhode Island and I’ve tried to dedicate my life to making sure people are treated in a just manner,” says George. “This award means a lot because I knew Danny Mollo personally… he was a force of nature. Danny preceded 211, but he was his own 211. In fact, I know he would be proud and amazed at what United Way has done with 211. It’s so valuable that people have a single place to call and can get assistance.”
With the RI AFL-CIO, George has had a profound impact on the community through advocacy, volunteerism, philanthropy, and influencing policy changes that improved access to opportunities and education for workers. He is actively involved in economic development projects, and serves on the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority and the Human Resource Investment Council to name a few.
Under George’s leadership, the RI AFL-CIO was the first partner to endorse our LIVE UNITED 2025 strategic plan.
George Nee and Patrick Crowley Guest columnists
While the origins of the Labor Day holiday cannot be traced to a single event, Rhode Island is one of a few states laying claim to starting it. Rhode Island hosted its first labor celebration on Aug. 23, 1882, even though the state wouldn’t celebrate its first official Labor Day for another 11 years. Then, 10,000 workers marched through the streets of Providence with the families and friends cheering them on, and then were ferried to Rocky Point for speeches from local and national labor leaders and a traditional clambake dinner.
Labor Day, then and now, is a time for workers to celebrate our work and to display our solidarity. This year, like in years past, the labor movement will gather in Moshassuck Cemetery in Central Falls to remember the union workers who were killed by security forces during the 1934 Saylesville Massacre. For the labor movement, this weekend is much more than a quiet end to the summer. It is about honoring the dead and fighting for the living. Now, even though the COVID- 19 pandemic created hardships for all of us, it has also reminded us why we celebrate workers in the first place.
How many times did we hear the term “essential workers” this last year and a half? Health-care workers and first responders, of course, but also store clerks and truck drivers. Countless workers were deemed essential including state and municipal workers, teachers and education support professionals, food and agricultural workers, transportation, warehouse, and delivery workers, and critical manufacturing workers. They worked long hours in hazardous conditions for the good of us all. Some of lowest paid workers were deemed as “essential” and even “frontline” workers.
There were moments captured in the news media of citizens applauding and publicly celebrating our essential workers — and how amazing that we now recognize them as essential.
But now, these same workers are fighting for their basic rights: a living wage, safe working conditions and the right to organize and join a union. As a state, we should not now allow powerful employers to treat these heroes as zeroes.
Throughout this crisis, the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and our affiliated unions fought alongside these workers, trying to protect them from unsafe working condustry, ditions and working to pass legislation like the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act. We rallied for civil rights and for the recognition that Black Lives Matter in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. And we continue to push for the federal legislation like the PROAct, giving workers a stronger voice on the job.
This year Rhode Island became the ninth state to put workers on a pathway to a $15 minimum wage. We applaud the General Assembly for passing this legislation and Governor McKee for signing it into law. But many challenges still lie ahead for Rhode Island’s working people. Whether the discussion concerns consolidation within the health-care inour deciding how to spend federal dollars on infrastructure, how to improve public education, how to protect workers from unscrupulous employers who engage in wage-theft, or how to ensure Rhode Island meets the goal of a net-zero emission economy as envisioned by the Act on Climate, the voice of working people needs to be heard loud and clear.
We are all eager to put this crisis behind us. We are all trying to find our new normal, but in our eagerness to move forward, we should not forget the workers who helped us survive.
George Nee is the president and Patrick Crowley is the secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.
For immediate release:
August 20, 2021
Statement from RI AFL-CIO President George Nee on the newly elected national AFL-CIO President and Secretary-Treasurer
Providence, RI - “The Rhode Island AFL-CIO extends its congratulations and solidarity to our newly elected president of the national AFL-CIO Elizabeth Shuler and newly elected Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond. This is an historic day for the labor movement, and despite our members still mourning the tragic loss of President Richard Trumka, we are energized to work alongside the first woman president of our labor federation as we work to pass the PROACT and continue to fight for working class people across this nation.”
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The AFL-CIO is including this regular feature in our Dispatch newsletter, where we ask three questions of a labor leader. We continue this feature with a short interview with Patrick Crowley (NEA), secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.
Q: How did you get started in the labor movement?
A: My first union job was as a member of RWDSU-UFCW Local 513 in Needham, Massachusetts, when I worked at the Coca-Cola factory to pay my way through college, but I really first became an active member when I joined UAW Local 2322 as a graduate student employee for the Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Q: What are your highest priorities in 2021?
A: The Rhode Island AFL-CIO helped to organize Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a coalition of unions and environmental organizations that work on prioritizing a just transition to a green economy. So far we’ve made good progress, helping to pass a pro-worker environmental bill into law called the “Act on Climate.” We are also working on increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, trying to make wage-theft a felony, establishing a patient/caregiver staffing ratio for nursing home workers, and enacting a moratorium on new charter schools. We are also advocating to make our statewide public bus service, RIPTA (where members of Amalgamated Transit Union [ATU] Local 618 work) free to all riders, so the service can expand and help us address the effects of climate change by encouraging more people to use public transportation.
Q: Can you tell us about recent progress that the Rhode Island AFL-CIO has had?
A: Despite everything going on with the pandemic, it’s been great to help our affiliates continue to organize new workers. In recent weeks we’ve seen union organizing wins for both private and public sector affiliates, adding members in the cannabis industry, school bus drivers, and public higher education. I’m optimistic that with the support of Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse we can get the PRO Act passed so we can ramp up our organizing even more.
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.
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.
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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.”