Union Members Reject State Contract in Rhode Island

Published October 8, 2008

The Rhode Island state government is mired in conflict after the largest state employees union rejected a labor contract brokered by its own leaders and went to court to block the governor from enacting the agreement’s key provisions.

On July 31 Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) signed an executive order requiring state employees to accept the health care provisions that had been negotiated between his office and union leadership. On August 6, in Rhode Island Superior Court, Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees filed for a restraining order to block the plan.

Awaiting Court’s Decision

The court was expected to rule on the filing within the month. Carcieri, meanwhile, agreed to hold off implementing the plan until a decision on the restraining order comes down.

The plan includes medical co-payments and higher health insurance premiums. On July 23 the union membership rejected it and all other provisions of the proposed four-year labor contract.

Earlier this year Carcieri had notified state labor unions their contracts would be terminated effective June 30, the date the existing contract between the state and unions expired.

Contentious Atmosphere

After the rejection of the proposed contract, Carcieri said his office was finished negotiating. The union then filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Carcieri.

The governor is also considering limiting union dues collection through the state payroll system and imposing restrictions on the conduct of union business on state time.

“I have a constitutional and statutory obligation to balance the budget,” stated Carcieri. “If I don’t take this action, I will be neglecting my primary duty to balance the budget on behalf of all our citizens.”

In an editorial, the Providence Journal called the union members’ rejection of the contract “unfortunate,” encouraged compromise, and urged both sides to “get back to the table.”

Scott Dilley ([email protected]) is a labor policy analyst at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington.