The Government-Union Alliance Has Failed Students
Collective-bargaining savings and immediate private school options are vital
Providence, RI –– The dismal public school system in Providence is clearly the result of a failed and costly government-union alliance, with misplaced priorities, that likely will require new perspectives and city bankruptcy as part of the solution. A state takeover would only be more of the same.
The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperitymaintains that whatever reforms are eventually implemented from whatever public review process is put in place will not help the tens of thousands of Providence students currently in their critical learning years.
“These kids need a new and better learning environment now, today. They cannot wait,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “In order to provide Providence and all Rhode Island students with a better chance at a brighter future, new players must have a seat at the table and new thinking is required as part of the solution. This dire situation cannot be turned around if the same people that caused the problem – local and state government and teachers union officials – are in charge of developing solutions.”
Historically, faint-hearted politicians and their teacher union allies have blocked educational reform ideas that have been successful in other states. However, if political leaders are honest and serious about their proclamations that all options must now be considered, and are willing to break those historical ties, the Center offers two practical and significant reform items that can have immediate impact:
1. More Educational Choices for Families. Recognizing that the larger school system reform process will take many, many years – if ever – to take positive effect, the Center suggests that thousands of Providence families can be provided with an an immediate escape-hatch from the drowning Providence school system. Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), first introduced in Rhode Island by the Center in 2014, would empower parents with the freedom and funding to select a private school educational path for their children. Extensive research by the Center showed that an ESA program can be immediately implemented – at no additional cost to state or local taxpayers!
2. Bankruptcy & Collective Bargaining Savings to Repair Schools. The top priority of any public school system must be about educating kids, not enriching adults. Decrepit and rat-infested school buildings can be repaired with savings from reworked overly-generous contracts with the teacher and all Providence unions. The Center’s May 2019 Public Union Excesses report estimated that the city of Providence is paying $110 million per year above and beyond private-sector rates for collectively-bargained services. This amount of annual money could easily fund the physical repair and upgrade of school buildings in Providence in just a few years.
However, given the newly enacted “evergreen contracts” law, it is only through bankruptcy proceedings, with a capable receiver, that these excessive collectively- bargained funds can be freed up for use in Providence. This is a Providence problem that must be solved with Providence money. It would be unfair for the state to mandate that taxpayers in other cities and towns to be forced to pay for the capitol city’s incompetence.
Unconstitutionally Expands Eminent Domain Powers?Government Would be Allowed to Intrude-upon, Dig, and Seize Property
Providence, RI –– A House bill that would dramatically expand the State’s eminent domain powers was delayed for at least one day, after the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity raised concerns just prior to yesterday’s scheduled House Committee on Finance vote.
The Center, long known as an avid defender of private property rights, categorized this bill as RhodeMapRI-style legislation that places some vague and arbitrary notion of economic development above the constitutional rights of property owners.
Derived directly from the 2018 legislative language to keep the Pawtucket Red Sox in Pawtucket, the current legislation targets property owners and would give the city of Pawtucket and governments across the state unprecedented access to intrude upon, test, and ultimately seize private property. Other provisions of the bill deny due process and would even force property owners to be evicted or pay penalties and attorneys fees to defend and keep their land.
Yesterday’s vote on H6153 was delayed with the official status, “Proposed Substitute”, but is expected to be re-considered as soon as today. The Senate version of the bill, S0673, was passed by the Senate Finance Committee on June 18.
The two pieces of legislation, with both lead sponsors from Pawtucket, Representative Tobon and Senator Cano, were also co-sponsored primarily by Pawtucket Reps and Senators.
“Everyone wants to see the city of Pawtucket succeed, but infringing on private property rights is not the way to go. If enacted, this legislation would constitute the largest expansion of the government’s eminent domain powers in Rhode Island history,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Perhaps unconstitutionally, it would expand the powers of redevelopment agencies to take private property for private economic development purposes instead of for “public” purposes or helping to remediate blighted and substandard areas.”
MyPayMySay Campaign to Spend $30,000 in Phase-2
Phase-1 Led to Doubling of State Worker Opt-Outs
Providence, RI –– In recognition of tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of the landmark US Supreme Court Janus v AFSCME ruling the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity announced today that it has launched phase-2 of its MyPayMySayRI.comcampaign to inform government workers of their restored first-Amendment rights.
“After hearing last summer from dozens of workers, frustrated that their unions were not adequately informing them of their rights following the Janus decision, our Center quickly launched, with little funding, our MyPayMySaycampaign, in conjunction with our national partner, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO.
Phase-1 of the campaign has already achieved significant results. According to a Providence Journal article, the percentage of state workers choosing not to become a union member has doubled from about 3% to 6% in less than one year. Also, 26% of the professional staff at the University of Rhode Island have left their NEA-RI union.
Yet, a recent national survey shows that 83% of K-12 teachers don’t fully understand their rights, while half of all teachers still don’t know they can leave their union without being required to pay fees and without losing any of their pay, health insurance, tenure, or seniority or other benefits.
Phase-2 of the Center’s campaign, following a more sustained fundraising outreach, began in late May and will end in July. Overall, approximately $30,000 is being spent to inform workers of their options through social media and web advertising, as well as mail pieces to union households.
The June 27 anniversary coincides with action this month by state lawmakers to side-step the rights of public employees by advancing bills that are a clear contrast to the decision made by the nation’s highest court. The legislation gives government unions special access to workers and allows unions to charge certain fees to those who choose not to pay for membership. The Center will monitor these actions from a legal standpoint.
State government officials also have been complicit in attempting to deny public employees the unbiased information they need to make the best decision for themselves and their families. Last summer, Governor Raimondo issued a directive to deny state-worker information to groups seeking to inform workers of their rights. And, more disturbingly, shortly after the Center’s campaign was launched, former Attorney General Kilmartin issued a public statement that misled public workers about their Janus rights; legal experts rightly called out this failure of leadership.
In many other states, where similar post-Janus or Right-To-Work informational campaigns have been initiated, up to 20%-30% of public employees have freely chosen to leave their government-designated unions.
Public employees can learn the full truth at www.MyPayMySayRI.com.
House Budget Seeks to Repeal Sales Tax Cut Statute
Center Calls on Lawmakers to Keep Promise to Taxpayers
Providence, RI — Rather than honor existing state law that specifies a reduction in the state’s sales tax rate, and deal with continued criticism for inaction, faint-hearted House leaders are instead seeking to change the law by attempting to sneak its repeal through the budget without public debate.
As a sad irony, instead of using the budget process to reduce the sales tax rate for Ocean State consumers, and comply with state law, as the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity had previously suggested … the House decided to use the budget process to repeal the law, hoping not to raise any public attention.
“Clearly, the Speaker and House leaders recognize that our Center has been right all along about complying with this state statute,” said the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse. “So, rather than honor the law, they seek to change the law. This disturbing trend of moving the goal-posts will not bring prosperity to Rhode Islanders.”
Now, the Center calls on rank-and-file lawmakers to stand-up for the promise made to taxpayers years ago and to find a way to keep the law on the books, if not demand that the law actually be followed.
The original rationale for the law was to relieve Rhode Islanders of the added burden of a sales tax imposed on a broader range of “internet” purchased goods, by easing the overall tax rate. The Center, in its 6.5% Sales Tax policy brief argued that the legal threshold had effectively been met by the continued expansion of the sales tax on internet purchases by remote sellers.
“If the political class breaks this sales tax promise, how can Rhode Islanders ever trust the promise made about not imposing tolls on our cars,” asked Stenhouse. “This loss of hope for our state’s political system is one reason why so many of our family and friends are fleeing our state.”
Suffering from a spate of retail store closings and a depressed jobs market, as compared with other states, the Center has repeatedly made the case that Rhode Island would get an economic boost from a reduced sales tax rate, in addition to providing residents with more cash in their pockets.
In its Zero.Zero report many years ago, the Center’s extensive research and economic modeling calling for a full repeal of the state sales tax, or reduction to 3.0%, as the most effective way to grow jobs. Related legislation in 2013 gained significant legislative interest, but ultimately did not advance.
Will Explore Development of an Internal Strategic Litigation Capacity
Providence, RI – The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is pleased to announce that former R.I. Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Flanders, Jr. has joined its Board of Directors, now totaling 14 members.
An Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court from 1996 thru 2004, Flanders is also well known for his 2018 candidacy as the Republican nominee for the United States Senate and for his appointment as “receiver” for the city of Central Falls in 2011. Flanders, who is now a partner with the Providence-based law firm, Whelan, Corrente, & Flanders, also spent many years with the Hinckley Allen law firm.
“As a long-time admirer of the Center’s work, I look forward to exploring with Mike Stenhouse the viability of building a new strategic litigation capacity for our organization,” commented Flanders.
“With our state suffering from a sharp policy turn to the left, and with legislative leaders unchecked and out-of-control in their devotion to special-interests, one strategy is to look into whether not some of the most harmful laws and regulations on our books are even constitutional,” added Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO.
Across the nation, it is a growing trend for state-based think-tanks, like the Center, to develop their own, internal legal capacity to challenge potentially unconstitutional statutes.
A Brown University and Harvard Law School graduate, Flanders has served in dozens of public, civic, professional, and nonprofit leadership capacities – receiving multiple special honors and awards. Like Stenhouse, who had an eight-year minor and major league baseball career, Flanders was also a minor league professional baseball player.
The entire list of the Center’s Board, along with a listing of its staff and adjunct scholars, can be found on its About Us webpage.
Bi-Partisan Coalition Supports Right-to-Earn-a-Living for Nonviolent Criminals and Protecting Civil/Property Rights
Providence, RI – The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity urges legislative leaders to reconsider two bills that would provide Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) and occupational licensing reforms, two areas consistently supported by the Center in recent years.
Each bill has similarly been implemented in over dozens of other states in recent years. And each bill has earned broad bi-partisan support among grassroots activists and other lawmakers in Rhode Island following their respective committee hearings. It is only General Assembly leadership that is holding them back.
H5863, which also provides occupational licensing reforms, would provide increased opportunities for people with minor criminal records to to earn a living for themselves and their families by removing unfair barriers and reducing burdens to obtain occupational licenses and certifications that are required in many industries.
Rhode Island’s regulatory laws often effectively impose a ban against individuals with a record from obtaining many licenses to work. Even vague crimes of “moral turpitude” are subject to such unjust prohibitions.
H5863 would remove many such unfair barriers and clarifies statues that make it overly difficult for prior criminal offenders to work in certain occupations. These changes would allow more individuals to re-enter society with the opportunity to live self-sufficient lives; in turn, improving the health of the state’s economy and reducing the recidivism rates and its associated costs.
“The more evolved view of America’s criminal justice system, by advocates on both the left and the right, is that after paying their debt to society, certain nonviolent offenders should be rehabilitated and trained to become a productive working member of society,” commented the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse. “But yet in Rhode Island, burdensome occupational licensing laws often make it impossible for these individuals to find gainful employment.”
The conservative Center joins with DARE, the RI-ACLU, and other liberal advocacy groups in supporting H5863.
The Center also supports H5721, a JRI bill that it crafted, which would completely re-write the Rhode Island’s “civil asset forfeiture” statutes, by which state and local government agencies may seize the property of suspected criminals or regulatory violators, many of whom are never charged or convicted. This legislation would help protect civil rights and the rights of property owners against overly-zealous government seizures, a phenomenon that disproportionately impacts low-income and minority communities.
The Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, testified at the March House Judiciary Committee hearing on H5721, which is also supported by the RI-ACLU, Occupy Providence, the Rhode Island Public Defenders Office, and the D.C. based Institute for Justice. There was no testimony opposing the legislation, yet legislative leaders are reluctant to move the legislation forward because of opposition from the law enforcement community, which benefits, sometimes unjustly, from the proceeds of seized assets.
A compelling video, research data, summary of the legislation, and copies of submitted testimony can be found on the Center’s home page for Asset Forfeiture reform.
The Center issued a major report on the need for occupational licencing reforms in 2018, Right to Earn (a living). The Center also joined with Democrats to help push through a package of JRI reform legislation in 2017; as part of the Center’s Family Prosperity Initiative.
Municipalities Across RI are Burdened with $590 million in Excess Costs… Not counting liabilities for paying people not to work!
Providence, RI— The #1 reason why local property taxes are up to 25% higher than they need be, is because of the $590 million in “excessive” costs, shared by municipalities across Rhode Island, for collectively-bargained government services, negotiated by government unions. This according to the landmark report, Public Union Excesses, released by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity in early May.
Additionally, these same municipalities are also burdened with a liability not often discussed – payments due to government workers who are allowed to “cash in” on their overly-generous and unused allowed “absences” – sick days, personal days, and other compensated leave time – as specified in their unions’ collective bargaining agreements … another $163 million cost heaped upon local taxpayers.
To underscore these local costs, the Center today published a 4-page summary of its Public Union Excesses report, which focuses on the municipal costs of collective-bargaining with government unions. All related material can be found at www.RIFreedom.org/Unions.
“This summary report is a must-have reference for all local school committee and city and town council members if they are looking for ways to control the exploding costs of collectively-bargained contracts with their municipal unions,” advised Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “If you would like print copies, just let us know.”
In Lincoln for example, one table on the summary lists the estimated $13.1 million in excessive costs, while another table lists the $4.3 million owed for paying workers not to work. In East Greenwich, the costs are $9.6 million and $.9 million respectively.
A bar-chart in the summary shows that most public sector employees often enjoy 50% more sick days than their private sector counterparts. Compounding the effect, government workers are usually allowed to carry-forward far more of their accumulated sick days – which can be cashed in each year or upon retirement.
One of the most objectionable schemes of government union collective bargaining process, which excessively drives up the cost of government for taxpayers, in ways or at levels that do not exist in the private sector, is being paid for not working. This issue, along with many others defined in the Center’s report, Public Union Excesses, contribute to an $888 million per year in excessive collectively-bargained costs, responsible for driving up local property taxes by up to 25%.
After looking at examples in just a few cities and towns, municipal taxpayers across Rhode Island may collectively be paying millions of dollars per year for unionized government employees to spend their public time on work for their unions … and not to work on the public services they were hired to perform.
Adding insult to injury, the many collectively bargained provisions that specifically allow for these so-called ‘ghost workers’ may actually be in violation of state law. More on that later on.
As detailed in the Center’s landmark report, Public Union Excesses, there are multiple schemes in which government unions benefit from overly generous provisions in collective bargaining agreements, provisions that hardly, if ever, are seen in the private sector.
One such provision is called “union release time.” Under this scheme, unions across Rhode Island use taxpayers as contractual piggy banks to fund union activities. How many Rhode Islanders know that they are paying for ‘ghost workers’ who are paid by the public, but who do not actually perform a public service for some or all of their official time? Instead, a common provision — found in many government union collective bargaining agreements — mandates that taxpayers pay the salary and benefits for for certain public employees, who spend time working on their unions’ business.
Union ‘ghost workers’ impose a triple-rip-off on taxpayers.
First, there is the direct cost of paying public workers for not working on public issues. Second, compounding the cost, taxpayers are further ripped-off because, often, an extra worker must be hired (sometimes at overtime rates) to fill in for the ghost worker’s shift. Third, union workers who are paid with taxpayer dollars to work on union issues … are working directly against the very same taxpayers who pay their salaries. As the Center’s Public Union Excesses report breaks down, collectively bargained government union excesses directly raise property taxes by as much as 25% for every Rhode Island family and business.
This union release time scheme is indeed a rip-off for taxpayers, as many of the designated union ‘ghost workers’ are awarded six-figure compensation packages, paid for by the public … but without the public’s receiving a commensurate return.
In its report, Public Union Excess, the Center estimates that taxpayers in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, are wasting over $8,176 per year on ghost workers, 100% of which is considered “excessive” in the report. This figure does not include the ‘replacement’ costs to hire additional staff.
However, the ‘ghost worker’ issue is much more costly in other cities and towns. In the Rhode Island’s capital city of Providence, for example, Maribeth Calabro, a special educator, whose $83,848 salary and compensation package worth well over $100,000 per year is paid for by local taxpayers, is also president of the Providence Teachers union. Per the city’s collective bargaining agreement with her Providence Teachers Union, Calabro is allowed to spend 40% of her teaching time (with full pay and service credit) to conduct union activities, costing taxpayers over $33,000 per year. Add in the cost of substitute teachers, estimated at over $16,000 per year, and Providence taxpayers are being ripped-off to the tune of almost $50,000 per year … just for this one teacher.
In the 2016 East Providence teachers’ contract, high school teacher and local union president Nicholas Shattuck is allowed to spend 40% of his teaching time, as part of his estimated $70,000 salary, on union business. “The President of the Association shall be relieved of all his/her non-teaching duties to take care of Association business. In addition, the President shall be provided the equivalent of two (2) full days per week at no loss in salary or benefits and the Association agrees to pay one-half (1/2) of the cost. Meaning that the School Department pays for one day and the Association pays for one day.” The estimated net ‘ghost worker’ cost of $14,000 per year, plus substitute costs at around $15,000 per year, means that East Providence taxpayers are bearing costs of almost $30,000 per year for this one paid public employees to conduct union business that constantly works against the better interests of those same taxpayers.
In Tiverton, there is a minimum trifecta of ‘ghost worker’ union release time provisions. Elementary school teacher and local union president Amy Mullen is allowed one teaching period per day (20%) for “union business.” At a salary of over $75,000 per year, the total rip-off to taxpayers, including the cost of substitute teachers, is likely over $30,000 per year. Provisions in Tiverton’s firefighter and police union contracts are less costly, having mainly to do with periodic conventions and meetings, but still may add over $10,000 per year in ‘ghost worker’ costs to taxpayers.
The above examples do not take into account common provisions that relieve union officers of “non-teaching duties” (for example). We did not attempt to value these activities, but exempting union officers likely has a cost of thousands of dollars, either in lost benefit to taxpayers and constituents or in the increased burden on other employees.
Unauthorized release time. But the rip-off to taxpayers does not end here. While it’s one thing for taxpayers to bear the burden for “authorized” release time as collectively-bargained for ghost-workers, it’s quite another thing for these same ghost-workers to cause “unauthorized” release time for co-workers. For instance, our Center has anecdotally been told by numerous former educators that it is common practice for local union NEA officials, who themselves were on release time to conduct ‘union business’ at the expense of the taxpayers, to simply walk into classrooms and pull other teachers (and fellow union members) out of their classes for meeting on various topics … often leaving entire classrooms unattended. In one instance, the so-called ‘union business’ that the authorized and unauthorized ghost-worker teachers were discussing … was to scheme how to get rid of a school administrator that the union did not like.
On the legal side, state law appears to prohibit these collectively bargained schemes. Under the state Labor Relations Act, Rhode Island General Law 28-7-13 states that “it shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer to” give preference to “any employee organization”:
By compensating any employee or individual for services performed in behalf of any employee organization or association, agency or plan, or by donating free services, equipment, materials, office or meeting space, or any thing else of value for the use of any employee organization or association, agency, or plan; provided that an employer shall not be prohibited from permitting employees to confer with him or her during working hours without loss of time or pay.
Rhode Islanders expect their hard-earned money to be spent to educate our children, protect our homes and businesses, or to provide other vital services. We do not expect that our money will be spent to advance the work of overly politicized unions.
According to our Center’s report and this follow-up post, not only are taxpayers grossly overpaying for government services, but they’re also regularly paying out their hard-earned money to government workers who are not even working! Whether it’s paying for release time where union members are paid by taxpayer for doing union work, overly generous vacation and personal days, paying for public employees on sabbatical, paying for suspended workers, paying for years and years for people out of work on dubious injury claims … or paying unsustainable levels of post-employment benefits … taxpayers are being ripped off.
If public workers want to assist their unions, the should do so on their own time or be paid out of the dues of union members … not on public time and certainly not on the public nickel. If we can bring these and other public union excesses into line with the private sector, your property taxes could be reduced by 25%.
Ghost Workers – Government Workers who are Union Officials Paid for Not Working – Drive-up Property Taxes
And it may even be illegal …
Providence, RI— One of the most objectionable schemes of collective bargaining contracts with government unions are provisions not found in the private sector that pay workers for not working, that increase the cost of government, and that unfairly drive up property taxes. Even more egregiously, in this case, public employees are being paid by taxpayers to work for someone else.
According to a post today as follow-up to to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s landmark Public Union Excesses report on the excessive costs of collectively bargained government services, ‘union release time’ provisions that allow for “ghost workers” – public employees paid by the public NOT to conduct work for the public; but rather paid by the public to conduct union work – are a major taxpayer rip-off.
In the post, Paid For Not Working; a Taxpayer RipOff; Ghost Workers and the Triple-Whammy of Union Release Time, multiple examples of contract language, as well identification and cost-calculation of actual ‘ghost workers’are provided.
“Worse, this unfair and unjustifiable practice appears to be in direct conflict with state law,” exclaimed Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center.
For example, in the city of Providence’s collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union, publicly paid special educator, Maribeth Calabro, also the local union president, is contractually allowed to spend 40% of her school schedule (with an estimated $100,000+ compensation package) on union business. Add in the cost of substitute teachers and the total annual cost to taxpayers likely exceeds $60,000 per year.
The full ghost worker post provides other individual examples and also discusses:
- The ‘triple-whammy’ on taxpayers, once substitute worker costs are added-in
- State law on what constitutes and “unfair labor practice”
- Further abuses of unauthorized release time
“If public workers want to assist their unions, they should do so on their own time and on the union’s nickel,” suggested Stenhouse, “and certainly not at the taxpayers’ expense.”
According the Center’s May 2019 Public Union Excesses report, Rhode Island taxpayers dish-out $888 million per year (or $3500 for a family of four) for excessive compensation provisions in collective bargaining agreements with government employee unions, which may drive up local property taxes by as much as 25%.