To the Editor:
When I read the article in the Johnston Sun Rise in the May 9, 2019, edition about contract continuation legislation, it made me want to both laugh and cry.
I laughed because of article indicates our mayor is considering a constitutional challenge to the contract continuation legislation. I wanted to cry because of the significant misinformation the mayor and the League of Cities and Towns have spread about this issue.
Collective bargaining for teachers exists because of state law, not because of anything in the Rhode Island Constitution. The bill does not take the “constitutional right away to negotiate.” Of course, if the mayor and the League of Cities and Towns want to propose some constitutional provisions to collective bargaining, I am certain I can convince my brothers and sisters in the labor movement to support the cause and amend our constitution to include collective bargaining.
I have lobbied for teachers and school support staff in support of contract continuation legislation for years and cannot believe claims made by my mayor and the League. The legislation preserves the status quo and will not cost the taxpayers one dime. The bill will not have a “devastating effect” because 99.9 percent of the time, when a public sector contract has expired over the last few decades, the contract did not change while the parties have continued to negotiate.
Only because of a few egregious examples of school districts unilaterally changing contracts by reducing pay, benefits and teachers’ rights did the legislation become necessary.
The one example the mayor cited, having a desire to change health insurance providers to save money, is not true. Rhode Island law prevents public sector contracts from naming specific insurance companies in contracts, so mayors and school committees would be free to change providers to save money as long as they maintain the same level of benefits.
A vast majority of senators and representatives supported the bill. I believe they understood that the bill would not cause a tax increase as Mayor Polisena has falsely claimed. I think the mayor and the League are losing credibility by making false claims on contract continuation legislation.
The author is a field representative and lobbyist with the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.