Once again unions are pushing for legislation that would give them even more leverage when it comes to negotiating Collective Bargaining Agreements for government workers. House bills 7198, 7633, and 7634 would grant all or some public employee unions underhanded perpetual contracts.

Progressive Land of Make Believe Bad Bill of the Week: Perpetual Contracts

They’re back!

Once again unions are pushing for legislation that would give them even more leverage when it comes to negotiating Collective Bargaining Agreements for government workers.

House bills 7198, 7633, and 7634 would grant all or some public employee unions an unfair advantage by keeping in place all existing collective bargaining provisions until a new contract has been agreed to by the parties – we call these “perpetual contracts” … and thus these three bills qualify as our “Progressive Land of Make Believe Bad Bills of the Week”.

In recent years, government worker unions and progressives have banded together to promote a centralized-government-control and high tax political environment. These bills exemplify this relatively new union-progressive partnership.

In living in this fantasy world of perpetual contracts, unions would never have to bargain in good faith, even in the worst of possible economic times, as they would be able to just sit back and continue to reap in their overly-generous benefits. In other words, your local taxes could never ever go down.

But wasn’t this issue decided last year? Yes it was. Despite the opposition from dozens of mayors and town leaders, the union-controlled House and Senate passed perpetual contract legislation in 2017. Thankfully, Governor Raimondo, who understands the real world when it comes to this issue, seemingly put the issue to rest by vetoing the perpetual contracts legislation.

But, the Rhode Island perpetual contracts legislation is back again this year! Why? What has changed?

In my opinion, unions are increasingly worried about how they will preserve their power, if the US Supreme Court rules against them in the Mark Janus case, which was heard by the Supremes in late February. In the expected June decision, the Supreme Court could grant government employees – such as teachers, police, and firefighters – the freedom to choose whether or not they can be compelled to join a union or pay union fees. Right now, public employee unions enjoy a negotiating monopoly and can force workers to financially support the unions’ political agenda.

Conventional wisdom believes the Supreme Court will rule against the union position. But what does this have to do with perpetual contracts? As it turns out … a lot.

Under one speculated Supreme Court ruling scenario, designed to lessen the financial impact on unions, forced dues and fees might be allowed to continue for those government workers under an existing collective bargaining contract. And that such employees could only opt-out once those existing contracts expire. But if contracts are “perpetual” – and would never therefore expire – then employees would never have the chance to opt out.

This means unions could continue to force people to have dues and fees automatically deducted from their paychecks.

This is a brilliant, yet devious maneuver. And this is how unions and their political cronies in statehouses across the country work: Finding every possible way to continue to extract money from taxpayers – and their own members – so that their financial and political power can be maintained.

As taxpayers and voters, everyone of us should be outraged that unions, and their legislative friends, conspire to devise such underhanded ways to pre-emptively evade what might be a landmark Supreme Court decision.

In our state’s progressive land of make believe, there is little doubt that the House and Senate, spurred by the desperation of public employee unions, will once again pass and send “perpetual contracts” legislation to the Governor’s desk.

It’s an election year, and the political pressure on her will be enormous, but once again, we must hope that the Governor, rooted in reality, will not be fooled or persuaded by this overt money grab by unions.

The Janus case could provide right-to-work protection for all public employees in the country. Right-to-work means a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying dues or fees.

Janus Public Policy Backgrounder

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31

Mackinac Center for Public Policy Backgrounder

F. Vincent Vernuccio and Patrick Wright


Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 is a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court filed by Mark Janus and two other Illinois state workers. If the justices rule in favor of Janus, the decision could:

  • Provide right-to-work protection for all public employees in the country. Right-to-work means a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying dues or fees.


All workers, whether they are in a right-to-work state or not, have the right to leave their union.

In non-right-to-work states like Rhode Island, however, employees can only opt out of paying the political portion of their dues, and many unions require them to submit paperwork to this effect annually. These workers are called “agency fee payers.”

Unions charge agency fee payers close to the same amount they charge regular members for dues. In California, for example, teachers are required to pay around 70 percent of their dues as agency fees, and in other states this amount can be even higher.

For most labor unions in Rhode Island, the amount of agency fees is left to each union and employer to negotiate, but they are often equal to dues. The exception to this contract-by-contract flexibility is for employees of the state, who are required by law to pay agency fees equal to dues even if they do not join their respective unions (RIGL 36-11-2). Rhode Island is one of only three states in the country that requires agency fees for state employees.

The right not to pay for a union’s political agenda through dues comes from the Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector workers have a First Amendment right not to be forced to pay for union politics. Private sector workers are granted the same right through a different court decision.

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Many states give government unions a monopoly over representation. The Abood case allowed unions to force all workers covered by the collective bargaining agreement to pay for the expenses incurred for representation, regardless of whether the employee wanted such representation or not. The argument in Abood was that, if workers were given a choice, an insufficient number of them would offer financial support to the union, making it difficult for the union to bargain effectively on their behalf.

As of 2018, workers in 27 states can exercise right-to-work rights and are not forced to pay dues or fees to the union organized in their workplace. In right-to-work states, however, only about 20 percent of unionized workers exercise these rights, meaning that unions in these states still have the financial support of about 80 percent of workers, on average. This suggests that the fears that rationalized the Abood decision were likely overstated.

Similar Rhode Island Case

In the Ocean State, five police officers in the town of Westerly sued the city over a requirement that they pay almost 15% of their salaries to the local union. The Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights, a Rhode Island–based nonprofit legal entity, litigated this case to defend non-union reserve police officers from being forced to contribute $5.00 of their $35.00 hourly pay to the union local.

Hopkins Center chairman Giovanni Cicione writes: “This was foisted on them without their consent, and these good public servants, many of whom are part-timers and retirees, are being forced to subsidize an organization they do not support and from which they receive no benefits.”


Mark Janus and the other plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Abood decision. They argue collective bargaining in the public sector is inherently political, and government unions devote more resources to their political agendas than just the small portion of dues that goes to directly support political candidates or causes.

On its Web page for a similar case covering teachers, the Center for Individual Rights explains, “Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.” Therefore, the plaintiffs say that by being forced to fund collective bargaining, they are being forced to fund political activity they might not necessarily agree with.


  • Government workers would still be able to remain in their unions, and those unions would still be able to collectively bargain. Janus would simply give workers a choice and prevent them from being fired for not paying a union.
  • Giving workers a choice can make unions stronger. Unions would need to prove their worth to their membership, giving members better representation and more-responsive leadership.
  • All collective bargaining by government unions is inherently political. Workers have a First Amendment right not to be forced to pay for political spending they disagree with. Therefore, workers should not be forced to support government unions.
  • Unions should not have the power to get workers fired for exercising their First Amendment rights.
  • While the case would essentially mean right-to-work for public employees across the country, practically it would only apply to the 22 states in which government workers are not already right-to-work and paying agency fees.
  • Only about 20 percent of workers in right-to-work states exercise their rights, so the practical effect of the case will likely only affect about 20 percent of government workers in the 22 states that do not already provide these rights to workers.


February 26, 2018 — The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Friedrichs case

End of June 2018 — Likely decision by the court

About the Authors

F. Vincent Vernuccio is Director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Patrick Wright is the Mackinac Center’s Vice President for Legal Affairs Affairs and authored the Center’s two briefs in the Friedrichs case.
The Mackinac Center is located in Midland,


NEW: Failing RI Report Card Grades Not Advancing Social Justice

November 17, 2015

Non-Competitive Grades Harming Work, Mobility, and Opportunity for Rhode Islanders
Preponderance of Fs and Ds Should Signal Need for Change in Policy Culture

Providence, RI — The opportunity for upward mobility for many Ocean Staters continues to be hampered by a non-competitive business climate and onerous family tax burdens, as evidenced by the poor grades the State of Rhode Island received on the 2015 Report Card on Rhode Island Competitiveness, the fourth annual such report, released today by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

Burdened with public policies that discourage work and a productive lifestyle, the state’s poor grades in 10 major categories (two F’s, seven D’s, and one C) reflect a government culture geared to benefit special interest insiders, while at the same time promoting job-crushing and soul-crushing dependency among the general populace.

Raising even further alarm, Rhode Island ranked dead-last, overall, when compared with report cards from other New England states.

“This report card clearly demonstrates the wreckage that decades of liberal policies have wrought upon our state. These unacceptable grades should be a wake-up call to lawmakers that a government-centric approach is not producing the social justice and self-sufficiency that Rhode Islanders crave,” suggested Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “If we want to provide more mobility and opportunity for our neighbors and entrepreneurs, we must completely reform our public policy approach. We must learn to trust in our people and remove the tax and regulatory boot of government off of their backs by advancing policies that empower the average family with choices, that reward work, and that grow the economy.”

The two categories with F grades are Infrastructure and Health Care; the seven D’s are Business Climate, Tax Burden, Spending & Debt, Employment & Income, Energy, Public Sector labor, and Living & Retirement in Rhode Island; while Education received a C-. Among the 52 sub-categories evaluated, Rhode Island received 19 F’s, 24 D’s, 5 Cs, 3 Bs, and just one lone A.

In a related 1-page brief, the Center also analyzes report card trends over recent years as well as comparisons to grades for other New England states.

The RI Report Card, originally developed for the Center by a national economist, compiles into a single document the state rankings among key economic and social indexes, as published by dozens of credible 3rd party national organizations.

The 2015 report card, with citations, as well as reports from prior years can be downloaded at RIFreedom.org/RIReportCard.

Media Contact:
Mike Stenhouse, CEO
401.429.6115 | info@rifreedom.org

About the Center
The nonpartisan RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is Rhode Island’s premiere free-enterprise research and advocacy organization. The mission of the 501-C-3 nonprofit organization is to return government to the people by opposing special-interest politics and advancing proven free-market solutions that can transform lives by restoring economic competitiveness, increasing educational opportunities, and protecting individual freedoms.

P3: a Compelling Delivery Model for Governor’s Proposed Infrastructure Upgrades

A P3 Model would bypass the troubled RI DOT and enable a private sector partner to deliver vital bridge and road repairs in a timelier, safer, and less costly manner. WOULD REMOVE ALL RISK OF COST OVER-RUNS FROM RHODE ISLANDERS!

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Governor’s BOND & TOLL plan will waste over $650 million

PAY-AS-YOU-GO a Superior Approach.

The plan under consideration would more than double the cost of the project and would enrich special-interests without any added benefit for Rhode Islanders. The Center’s new report shows how to make RhodeWorks “work” for Rhode Island.

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Center Calls on State to Suspend Childcare Unionization Law

UPDATE – June 30, 2014: Based on today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Center, as it warned last fall, calls on State and SLRB to undo unconstitutional law and resulting SEIU elections. (see media release below)

UPDATE – August 6, 2014: SEIU in Massachusetts and other states abandon forced fee scheme for home childcare providers – see media release here! Our Center challenges the SEIU in Rhode Island to follow suit.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                    June 30, 2014

Providence, RI — Based on today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Harris v Quinn case, which legal experts believe invalidates the 2013 Rhode Island law that allowed for the forced payment of fees to unions by home childcare providers, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity is calling on the State, the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB), and all statewide candidates in 2014 to act decisively and swiftly to ensure that taxpayer dollars intended for the care of children, which are unconstitutionally slated to be diverted into union coffers, remain with the providers.
In order to avoid a legal morass and the costs of a potential lawsuit, as projected by the Center last year, and with area unions publicly stating that it is their plan to force unionization upon even more independent business owners and contractors in the Ocean State, the Center recommends that clear, decisive administrative and legislative action be taken as soon as possible. Touting it as a major victory for small business, the Center believes today’s decision will “stop cold” any further attempt by organized labor to compel other independent contractors and small business owners to pay union fees.
“For these very reasons, last fall our Center petitioned the SLRB and the SEIU to hold off on this unionization process until the Harris case was decided. But they forged ahead without concern for anybody’s interest but their own,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “As our Center also warned, this entire process has been an unconstitutional waste of time and money that violates these providers’ first amendment rights.”
The Center is calling on 2014 gubernatorial and General Assembly candidates to weigh in on how they will approach potential legislation in 2015 that would permanently undo the now unconstitutional law (H5946) that passed the Rhode Island’s General Assembly in 2013.
In the meantime, the Center is calling on Rhode Island’s SLRB to invalidate the results of the October 2013 SEIU election that was based on the now unconstitutional law; and upon the state to suspend all ongoing contract negotiations with the SEIU for these independent contractors, to ensure that no professional is forced to pay union dues or fair-share fees, to prohibit any possibility of state involvement in the collection of related dues, and to ensure that no taxpayer dollars will be used in defense of any subsequent lawsuit.
Further, the Center calls upon Attorney General Kilmartin to issue an opinion as to whether or not the administration as the legal authority to temporarily suspend the 2013 state law that today’s U.S. Supreme Court indirectly ruled is not constitutional.
The Center may also seek to initiate injunctive relief against the state and the SEIU labor union, on behalf of home childcare providers, because the existing law illegally treats such business owners as public employees.
In 2013, the Center published a report highlighting concerns that unionization may cause for taxpayers, service providers, and other independent business owners. All related information can be viewed on the Center’s website at www.RIFreedom.org .

Lack of Transparency, Threat of Arrests Continue to Cloud SEIU Unionization Scheme

STATEMENT: November 21, 2013

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity calls on the Chafee Administration to provide transparency during the negotiating process with the 540 newly unionized childcare providers, as well as to hold them and SEIU to their word.
Amid reports that the SEIU has already requested that secret negotiations begin with the Administration, the Center points out, that immediately following the election to accept SEIU representation, union officials and new union members repeatedly told the public that unionization was about professional development and not about pay and benefit increases. The Center, on behalf of taxpayers who would pay for any negotiated benefits, urges the Administration to provide sunlight on the process, in order to demonstrate that the substance of the negotiations is, indeed, restricted to professional development matters only. Administration officials have already indicated that they are not inclined to allow any public scrutiny until after the negotiations are completed.
“After the most secretive and biased election process we have ever witnessed, it is unacceptable to taxpayers that these negotiations will take place in the shadows,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “The report our Center issued in September, Taxpayers Beware, discussed the potential costs associated with yet more union benefits, which our already stressed budget cannot responsibly absorb”.
In a related matter, as reported in The Ocean State Current, the State Police admitted that there would have been no justification to arrest taxpayer advocates for merely watching the proceedings of the child-care provider unionization election conducted by the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB), which violated its own guidelines in directing law enforcement officers to forcibly keep observers away. A number of citizen volunteers were threatened with arrest if they approached the election venues.”The entire SEIU unionization election scheme, orchestrated by the SLRB, reeks of insider cronyism, secrecy, and, now we know, unjustified heavy-handed tactics,” concluded Stenhouse.

STATEMENT: October 31, 2013

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity questions the results of the election results announced today by the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB) regarding the unionization of home childcare providers.
Many Rhode Islanders believe that this entire unionization and election scheme was rigged from the outset. With multiple allegations of fraud with similar votes in other states, the utter lack of transparency and degree of secrecy by the State Labor Relations Board provides zero assurance that a free and fair election was conducted. The disdain towards taxpayers and the public, the armed security, the threat of arrest of citizens, and the fact that union members were brought in to work the polls …  only perpetuate these concerns.
The alleged vote tally of 72% of all eligible voters in favor of unionization is at significant odds with results from many other states, and does not square with the counts that our volunteers reported from the poll venues.
It is in the interest of the unions to create the perception that overwhelming support was achieved so that they can claim they have a mandate to go after the next group they wish to unionize.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  October 27, 2013 

Center Condemns Heavy Handed Tactics and Secrecy of SEIU Unionization Election

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity condemns the heavy handed tactics that unnecessarily led to arrest threats against civilians merely attempting to observe the election to unionize home childcare providers on Saturday in Newport, Kingston, and Lincoln. The Center challenges the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB), the SEIU, and the State Police to follow existing rules and regulations.

“Imagine this: The insiders who colluded to bring this SEIU unionization scheme to a vote – the SLRB, the SEIU, and the State of Rhode Island – are allowed full access as officials of the election; yet the taxpayer, who will bear the cost of the election and the cost of unionization are not allowed anywhere near the polling place, under threat of arrest”, said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “What are they so afraid of and why has this supposedly democratic process been kept so secret? Something is very wrong here.”

Volunteers organized by the Center who attempted to observe the proceedings were stopped by state troopers and presented with a copy of the SLRB’s General Rules and Regulations (Title 28, Labor and Labor Relations, Chapter 28-7 of the Labor Relations Act, Section 8.02.7 – Prohibited Election Conduct) that prohibits “electioneering” within 200 feet of the polling place or who may “interfere” with the election process.

“Absolutely no electioneering took place; no protests; no signs; no materials passed out; and no volunteer, in any way, attempted to interfere with the election process, yet they were threatened with arrest for just being in the vicinity. Meanwhile union supporters were allowed to wear their purple SEIU scarves all the way inside,” continued Stenhouse. “Since when does the State Police take orders from the SLRB?”

The Center calls upon the SLRB and the State Police to heed the law and allow peaceful civilian observation, specifically calling upon:

  • the SLRB and its administrator, Robyn Golden, to retract its self-serving, broad interpretation of its own rules and regulations
  • the SLRB to provide a full accounting of the costs of the election, and the names of the individuals it authorized to serve as “official observers”
  • the State Police to: a) conduct its own, independent interpretation of the regulations and instruct its troopers to act accordingly; namely taking action only if improper electioneering or interference takes place, and; b) to specify under what authority it can be deputized by the SLRB


ORIGINAL STATEMENT:  October 27, 2013 

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity openly questions the transparency of the scheme that could have significant consequence for taxpayers; namely the process to unionize home childcare providers, which culminates with an election in the next week about whether home child care providers will accept exclusive representation by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The Center challenges the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB) and the SEIU to provide additional information to the public.

UnionfreelogoThe SLRB has refused to release information about the card signature process; has refused to consider multiple petitions from our Center; and refuses to provide any information to indicate that the upcoming voting process will be fair, transparent, or fraud-free with regard to voter validation, intimidation, and public access.

There is reason to be wary, as there have been allegations of SEIU fraud and intimidation tactics over similar schemes in other states (see SEIU California intimidation video), yet there are no publicly known safeguards in place here in Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, multiple providers have privately confided with the Center that SEIU representatives have lied to them when knocking on their doors to promote unionization.

Other providers, not eligible to vote, because they do not currently serve families on public assistance, feel discriminated against and have questioned the fairness of an election where their voice has been purposely suppressed. If they do accept such families in the future, these providers will be forced to pay dues or fees without ever having had the opportunity to vote on an issue that could significantly affect their business.

“There is real fear and frustration out there. Despite repeated requests from our Center, the silence from the SLRB has been deafening. If the SEIU and the SLRB are so convinced that they are conducting a fair process, why are they afraid of a little sunlight”, inquired Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “There has been no information about how the SLRB plans to ensure that voters will not be intimidated or deprived of free-choice in this election. We challenge them to publicly discuss these matters in order to ensure taxpayers and providers that an open and honest election will take place”.

Most egregiously, the SLRB has refused to acknowledge that recent U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Appeals Court actions, which raise the distinct possibility that similar schemes may be unconstitutional, should have any bearing on its plans to forge ahead with a vote, despite the legal and financial morass the election could create.

The secrecy began from the outset when the SEIU claimed it collected signed cards from 80% of the providers, allegedly indicating that they were in favor of unionization, and submitted those cards to the SLRB in order to begin the election process. Neither the cards themselves, their content, nor the names of the providers who the SEIU claims to have signed them, were provided to our Center or to the public, despite a specific request to the SLRB. Neither was any information provided about the validation process of the signatures, instead choosing to hide behind its own, self-serving rules designed to ensure secrecy. In an informal survey, when our Center called dozens of providers, not a single provider indicated that they signed a card. Proof of fraud? No. Statistically curious? Yes.

Next, our Center formally petitioned the SLRB three times to amend the election process to conform with precedents in other states and very recent federal court actions, specifically requesting:

  • a ballot language change that more accurately reflected the decision providers must make, as has been worded on other state ballots;
  • an open legal response and analysis to a September federal appeals court ruling blocking an almost identical election in Minnesota;
  • to postpone the election until after the U.S. Supreme Court, in October, agreed to hear an Illinois case that may provide legal precedent to the RI process

In all three cases, the petitions were denied, with the SLRB again hiding behind a supposed technicality that our Center, representing the taxpayer, had no standing to make such petitions. However, the SLRB cited no statute to validate this claim.

Finally, with regard to the SLRB’s “Notice of Election” sent to eligible providers, after repeated requests, now 12 days old, the SLRB has refused to respond in any way to a number of questions the Center posed about the election venues. The questions, specifically inquired about:

  • What the SLRB considers as “electioneering?
  • Voter validation process at the polls?
  • How the Center or the taxpayer can become an “authorized observer” at the polls? The state and the SEIU have already been designated as such.
  • Public and media access guidelines at the polling locations?

Since 2004, when the SLRB unilaterally attempted to designate independent child home care providers as state employees for the purpose of unionization, only to be struck down in 2005 in a RI Superior Court ruling, there can be no question that the SLRB and the SEIU are working closely together to critical elements of this unionization process hidden from public scrutiny.

Rhode Islanders should expect more from its government. Our Center demands transparency of this blatant insider scheme.