A new dynamic is emerging in Rhode Island politics.
Businesses and social-service agencies that enter the political arena by supporting actions that local unions oppose, such as pension reform, should be prepared for consequences when labor leaders call on the-rank-and-file to retaliate.
But they also have a backer with strong financial muscle in Engage Rhode Island, whose political clout will be fully tested in the 2012 elections.
Pension reform last year brought with it not only heightened talk of COLAs and 401(k) plans, but also formation of the highly visible, business-backed EngageRI to support the effort. In response, local unions whose leaders believe their members were shortchanged mobilized.
As a result, at least two key players in EngageRI at least initially saw their revenue streams narrowed after they publicly backed pension reform: Collette Vacations and Crossroads Rhode Island.
The National Education Association, the parent group of NEARI – the educators union with local chapters in 34 school districts and colleges/universities in Rhode Island – chose to award its national contract for travel services to a business other than Collette, which had held it for several years. The change came about two months ago “based on [Collette’s] anti-labor stance in Rhode Island,” the NEARI said on its website (www.neari.org).
Collette, located in Pawtucket with 328 employees, is a member of EngageRI and two Collette leaders were on its board of directors: Dan Sullivan, CEO and president of Collette; and John Galvin, chief financial officer, who is treasurer of the EngageRI board.
Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the 12,000-member NEARI, said the national union took this step because of the “corporate entity’s” active involvement in EngageRI.
“It is not an unreasonable response,” Walsh said. He noted no one is asking local NEA members themselves to boycott Collette or any other business, nor has the union urged an end to charity donations for any particular agency. “Our folks can make their own judgments,” Walsh said.
Sullivan declined comment to Providence Business News on the loss of the contract.