Despite decline in union membership, Crowley sees reasons for growth

Posted 10/25/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: Organized labor has made a lot of headlines of late, what with strikes by writers in Hollywood and auto workers in Michigan. The common thread is how technology is extending the …

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Despite decline in union membership, Crowley sees reasons for growth


STORY OF THE WEEK: Organized labor has made a lot of headlines of late, what with strikes by writers in Hollywood and auto workers in Michigan. The common thread is how technology is extending the sense of economic anxiety felt by many Americans. Yet the number of people in the U.S. who belong to a union fell to a record low of 10.1% last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Big corporations like Amazon and Starbucks have been able to marginalize organizing efforts by their employees. Is the sense of enhanced muscle being flexed by labor an illusion? Not If you ask Patrick Crowley, who will shift to a full-time role next year as secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and is on a path to succeed the iconic George Nee as union president. Crowley points to a young national generation of labor leaders and growing dissatisfaction among workers. “[T]hey see that the economy has been working for the 1% very well -- the ratio of CEO pay to worker pay is now 350-to-one, when in 1965. It was 20-to-one,” Crowley said during an interview on Political Roundtable. “So I think workers are fed up with things that don't work for their favor.” With his growing responsibility, Crowley said his vision includes organizing more workers in Rhode Island and changing some state laws that would allow more organizing. At the same time, he blames a federal law written in 1935 for giving the upper hand to corporations in some showdowns with unions. Crowley contends that a significant majority of Americans support the union cause, even if they don’t belong to unions. But the fate of laws affecting labor and its ability to make further gains rests in large part on which party controls Congress and the White House.

WAR IN ISRAEL: After the Hamas attack on Israel, the first thing I thought of was a news conference staged by then-U.S. Sen. John Chafee in response to the first Intifada. It was in late 1987 or early 1988, illustrating the seeming intractability of the cycle of conflict between Israel and its enemies. To bring things into the present, U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse this week issued this joint statement: “After the briefing we received, it is clear that the United States is standing fully with Israel.  We must recognize Israel’s right to defend itself from murderous terrorists. We are also assured that President Biden has negotiated the flow of humanitarian aid to Gazans. We must minimize harm to innocent civilians in Gaza, even as Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields. The intelligence community has concluded that the tragic explosion at the hospital in Gaza was the result of an errant rocket launched by terrorists and not an Israeli airstrike. Those who are responsible for that horrific attack must be held accountable for the devastation they’ve caused.” Reed was headed to Israel as part of a congressional delegation. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss told Politico last weekend that an expected Israeli ground invasion of Gaza “is appropriate given the threat and nature” of Hamas.

ENVIRONMENT: As my colleague Olivia Ebertz reports, the state Department of Environmental Management has adopted an environmental justice policy, something needed, advocates say, to counter the effect of siting polluting industries in the poor parts of communities like Providence.

HOUSING: Back in the day, Milton, Massachusetts, was the kind of place where young people (not to mention a former defense lawyer for Ed DiPrete, Buddy Cianci, and other RI characters) could buy a home. Now, though, as ProJo alum Mark Arsenault reports in The Boston Globe, Milton exemplifies how Massachusetts is choking off the kind of home ownership possibilities that are vital to the state’s future. Arsenault, who has penned a few novels, has long been a stellar writer, so enjoy tasty turns of phrase like this as he unpacks the story: “Expensive housing acts as a golden gate, and there is a price to be paid for living in a gated community.” Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey this week unveiled a $4 billion plan to confront the state’s housing crisis. Closer to home, the RI Association of Realtors reports a small increase in housing supply, even as the median cost of a home in RI climbed almost 10%, to $455,000.

TAKE OF THE WEEK – various views from a mix of Rhode Islanders

RI House GOP Leader MIKE CHIPPENDALE of Foster: “Housing, conservation and energy modernization don’t need to be at odds with one another. These three issues, in contemporary times, have never been simultaneously in the ‘policy spotlight’ to the extent that they are now. Housing inventory -- and not just affordable housing -- is extremely low in Rhode Island and the leadership of the House has placed this issue at the focal forefront of our efforts. Conservation of forested lands, farms and our public watersheds has always been under the ‘policy microscope’ as we truly understand and respect the importance of conservation and have legislated for decades in a manner that reflects these values. The new kid on the block, energy modernization, came into a state -- in fact a nation -- that was not quite prepared for it. By this I mean that we had a large degree of statutory silence on the development of renewable energy projects. Consequently, forested lands were stripped of their carbon-sequestering trees, farms had to ‘peel off’ acres of their valuable and shrinking land to add renewable development to help keep their operations solvent, and our forested tracts of land began to be fragmented and abused by those rushing to procure as many federal and state subsidized dollars as possible to grow these development empires. I urge my colleagues and partners focused on housing and energy modernization to join me and all the amazing conservation-focused entities in RI to craft plans and policies that are respectful and complementary to the goals within these three different areas -- as they can absolutely co-exist harmoniously. Many U.S. states have already demonstrated this to be true, and while we try to ‘reinvent the wheel’ in Rhode Island, I don’t believe the silos currently existing around the three policy areas are positioning us for mutual existence and success with these extremely important issues.”

SOCCER CONFIDENTIAL: The good news is that Rhode Island FC, the new soccer team, has found a deep-pocketed financial backer to guarantee construction of its forthcoming home in Pawtucket. The not-so-hot news from a transparency perspective (this project is getting public money, after all) is how, as Patrick Anderson reports in the ProJo, the benefactor will remain unidentified.

BOOK CORNER: South Kingstown-raised Jhumpa Lahiri has a new collection of stories, set in Rome. Here’s an excerpt from an NPR interview: “I think I became a writer because I needed to be in dialogue with this very complex theme, if you will, of being an other or feeling on the outside of something, never finding one's way into the center of things, always being questioned and always questioning oneself. So I think it's both things. I mean, I always questioned who I was and where I belonged if I belonged anywhere.”

 KICKER: Opposition from Hope Street merchants is being cited as a factor for why Providence Mayor Brett Smiley is not continuing a pilot bike lane initiated by his predecessor, cycling enthusiast Jorge Elorza. They doth protest too much. As a regular visitor to the retail district near Hope and Rochambeau, I have never had difficulty finding parking on a nearby side street. But automobiles still rule in our car-dependent culture, meaning that cyclists need to keep both eyes open and their head on a swivel to lessen chances of a mishap or worse.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@thepublicsradio.org.

politics, Donnis, unions


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