Free Speech in Rhode Island? Gotta Register
Seems the upcoming U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting set for that city has put the spotlight on Providence Mayor David Cicilline’s seven-year long battle against union members. Cicilline refuses to bargain a fair contract, forcing the union into arbitration over each contract, and even going so far as to introduce anti-union ordinances and calling for similar state legislation. The Democratic mayor—yep, a Dem—couches his attacks against members of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 799 as saving taxpayer money. In reality, as of 2008, Cicilline’s mounting legal bills against the union hit $1 million, with the city losing every court decision.
Now, Cicilline, who lobbied hard for the conference to take place in Providence, has national egg on his face: The White House announced that Vice President Joe Biden and a delegation of top administration officials—including Labor Secretary Hilda Solis—will not cross the Fire Fighters picket line to speak at the conference. Quite a black eye for a city expecting 1,200 people from around the country, including 180 mayors and their families. And for a mayor who’s watching his aspirations for governor’s office tank along with his sinking approval ratings.
The city, foreseeing a large turnout of picketing firefighters, police officers, and other advocacy groups, is asking protesters to register for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the annual gathering of mayors that is coming to the city starting Friday.
Lest the public worry about that pesky First Amendment, Peter Gaynor, director of the city’s Emergency Management Agency, assures the public that the city wants to honor the free speech of protesters "while also ensuring the safety of those who live, work and visit the city while the conference is in town."
The mayor’s draconian measures continue his long line of attacks against union workers—the same workers who, by the way, believed his promises to negotiate a fair contract and so helped elect him in his first run for mayor. Yet, since that 2002 election, Cicilline consistently has opposed fire fighters. As IAFF points out:
Local 799’s last contract expired in 2005 and Providence fire fighters have been forced to arbitrate their last seven collective agreements. Mayor Cicilline has fought Local 799 in arbitration and lost nearly every battle. The mayor has fostered additional ill-will by introducing state legislation and city ordinances against Providence fire fighters.
Kudos to the White House, where press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters:
Because of the circumstances surrounding the conference, administration officials will not be participating in this year’s meeting….We have always respected picket lines, and administration officials will not cross this one.
IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger said:
We appreciate the Obama administration’s support of fire administration’s unqualified support for workers and organized labor.
Local 799 President Paul Doughty says fire fighters and other local union members plan to picket throughout the four-day Mayor’s conference.
We tried to settle our differences with the mayor, but he continues to antagonize the hard-working fire fighters of Local 799, so we will use this opportunity to shed light on the mayor’s epic mismanagement and his disdain for workers.
It’s real easy to throw the power of the mayor’s office around to stall public employee contracts. Not so easy to get up and do a job where your life is at risk every day.