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Could ‘Right to Work’ Gain Traction in RI Senate?

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Right to Work is a controversial topic that has recently become a popular talking point in many states around the country as school districts look for new ways to save money and break away from some of the negotiated contracts with teachers unions that opponents say are too burdensome to carry any longer.

But in a state like Rhode Island, which is so heavily democratic that you can almost count the Republican and Independent General Assembly members on two hands, the odds of any meaningful legislation broaching the topic even being discussed at the State House are slim, right?

Not if one State Senator gets his way.

In a bill submitted to the Senate Labor Committee last week, District 21 Senator Nicholas Kettle (Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich) proposed allowing the state’s teachers the option of opting in or out of a union, a measure he says is designed to give them a choice but which national opponents have consistently argued is a backhanded attempt to strip unions of their power.

The theory opponents to Right to Work argue is that once teachers are no longer forced to be in a union, they’ll opt out and take their dues money with them and, without dues money, a union would be unable to operate.

But Kettle says that’s not his intention.

“Teacher’s should have a choice whether or not they want to be a part of an organization like the (National Education Association) NEA which uses questionable tactics in dealing with the legislature,” he said. “They extort funds from teachers to go to candidates for campaigns of people they may or may not support and I think this is another part of our civil rights. People should be able to choose if they want to join a union or not.”
Kettle, a fairly new politician who only just turned 22 and is in his second term after a razor-thin victory of 1.5 percent on election night, says he knows his legislation faces tough odds and an even tougher opponent.

“The money,” Kettle said when asked what the biggest challenge to a Right to Work law is. “The unions, the minion system that the NEA has so perfected. They’re able to give money to candidates who then do the bidding of the unions and those who do not are basically ousted for non-compliance. They donate to all these senators and representatives so to put something like this forward is very difficult with the money that we’re going up against and just the absolute entrenchment of the democrats.”

Still, Kettle hopes submitting his bill will at least start the discussion at the state level.

“I would love to get it passed,” he said. “Obviously I know there’s slim chances but my constituents, with their election of myself as the youngest state senator in America, they want something different than what it being offered by the democratic leadership that’s up on Smith Hill.”

Kettle says he believes Right to Work would be a “game-changer” in Rhode Island and could even “accelerate” the state’s economy but opponents have constantly countered that argument with beliefs that all the system would really do is allow for districts to pay their teachers less and strip some, if not all, of the benefits made through years of negotiation.

“They have said in the past that it’s right to work for less money and that could be a possibility,” he concedes. “Non-unionized people, people who choose not to be a part of the union and take employment may very well make less money but it’s their choice. But also, keep in mind too that even though they may be making less money, they’re not having to pay dues every single week out of their paychecks.”

For Kettle, it comes down to making a change.

“We have big drops in education,” he said. “I just went through high school and now I’m in college and I see a lot of teachers in the classroom and they’re fantastic with our children. There are a lot of great teachers and I was lucky to have them but there are some teachers who fail our students and the NEA protects those teachers and those teachers are the ones that should not be in the classroom.”

And as for those arguments that this legislation is an attempt at stripping the teachers’ union one piece at a time?

“I’m not getting rid of the teacher’s union,” Kettle said. “I think the teacher’s union should stay but I think there should be a choice and those teachers who opt to not join the union, they can keep more money in their pockets by not paying out dues. This would allow districts to perhaps possibly attract high quality better teachers that are on a performance-based salary and basically this would help improve education.

It is just a choice. I do not want to eliminate the union, I just want to create a choice.”


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Right to Work would never fly in RI.
Unions are waaaaaaay too strong.
Stop wasting your ink on such stupid stories.

Of course it SHOULD be in RI, but like everything else, anything that is good for RI, will NEVER become reality here.

Comment #1 by pearl fanch on 2013 01 31

Mr. Kettle, you'll realize, sooner rather than later that democrats around here don't WANT the game to change. Introducing ideas like this is a good thing though it keeps the wide gap between right and wrong plainly evident in Rhode Island.

Comment #2 by David Beagle on 2013 01 31

this is a great idea. but will never see the light of day in this state,it,s a wonder the union puppets in the state house did no t boo him out the door.

Comment #3 by bob ingerson on 2013 01 31

A person who wants to be a teacher in this state should absolutely have the right to join the union or not join the union and still teach. Its really that simple.As taxpayers we should encourage excellence and remove any obstacles to hiring the best teachers for our children.

Comment #4 by michael riley on 2013 01 31

This state will eventually run out of gas if the unions are not reigned in. They are bankrupting the state. People are leaving this state and they know it. They are in denial if they think this will go away. Right to work is the right way to go!

Comment #5 by Gov- stench on 2013 01 31

With two union lobbyists in the senate leadership there is no chance of this going anywhere. Why write the article without reaching out to Ruggerio and Chiccone? Journalism is dead.

Comment #6 by george pratt on 2013 01 31

As a retired union member, I've seen the nastiness of both union and management. Their both two peas in the same pod. Until both sides realize the need for fairness in wages and benefits for workers instead of one side trying to get as much as it can and the other side trying to give as little as it can, the labor wars will continue and all will suffer.

Comment #7 by Mark St. Pierre on 2013 01 31

Seriously? You're joking, right?

Comment #8 by Joyce Bryant on 2013 01 31

It should be statewide Right to Work, not just with teachers. Even Michigan woke up and realized that forced unionization is incredible bad for employees, employers and the state as a whole. We'll wake up around here and realize that long after it's already too late.

Comment #9 by Russ Hryzan on 2013 01 31

At the least, states like RI and California will provide great examples of what NOT to do as the business-friendly, freedom-minded states promote prosperity in their policies -- and talented Rhode Islanders flee to those states.

Comment #10 by Art West on 2013 01 31

Right to work is another employer tactic to get rid of unions. Unions are needed in certain employement situations. Employees want the backing of the union, but don't want to pay for it. Employees only need the union when it benefits them. RI should not be right to work - if unions are not needed, then why are employers trying to disband them? Teachers that think they don't need a union would be greatly disappointed if they got their wish. Unions are in place for a reason, and if you don't understand that research it or ask someone that works in a union that have benefited from one. You only hear one side of the story when it comes to employers and unions...the employers. Read up on the fall of the Hostess twinkies debacle. You will see that corporate GREED not unions bankrupted the company.

Comment #11 by DS knows on 2013 01 31

DS knows,

In the case of Hostess, the Teamsters Union looked at the books and concluded that their union should make concessions. The bakers' union on the other hand tried to call management's "bluff" and found out the hard way that the company actually was in trouble and needed labor concessions.

A union sunk Hostess. So, Hostess is not the best example to trot out. The same could be said of Brown & Sharpe.

Comment #12 by Art West on 2013 01 31

I'm sorry but the whole "Unions are evil" thing is just a bit ridiculous. I've been a Firefighter for almost ten years now and if I was not in a union my job would be drastically different. The city would just unilaterally make changes (which they tried to last year), such as increasing our hours per week with no extra pay. Cutting benefits(healthcare, death benefits), cutting pay, cutting equipment. Right to work is just a way to try and cripple a union. If a job that's already unionized has people opting out and not paying dues, which is hardly extortion and not nearly as much money as you think, then those workers would be benefiting from the unions negotiation without having to chip in. I have family down South who work in a right to work state and that basically means they can fire you for any reason, do whatever they want to your pay and benefits.

Comment #13 by Sean Patrick on 2013 01 31

Who needs unions anyhow. Let's get back to 16 hour days, child labor, and company stores. Our kids are weak. Exploiting them like China and India does will make them stronger and bring us even cheaper goods at Walmarts.

Comment #14 by Charles Marsh on 2013 01 31

Kettle is a 22 year old that needs to work a few jobs before he starts dictating what is best for workers in this state.

This headline is sensational considering this has zero chance. Golocal needs to chase actual news stories.

Comment #15 by Thomas Ryan on 2013 02 01

We have labor laws and OSHA these days to take care of safe working conditions, child labor and more. We don't need unions sucking the life out of everything they touch continuing to extort money from their members and using it to buy political power. This is especially true in the public sector, where "collective bargaining" against the taxpayers should be illegal, not just optional.

Comment #16 by Russ Hryzan on 2013 02 01

Well let's see.
The unions hand pick the politicians that are in office now.
Now you're asking the politicians to vote on whether or not to make RI a RTW state.

Stop this stupidity, will you!!!!!!

RI'ers WANT everything they've got.

RI is a RIGHT TO NOT WORK STATE!!!! And RI VOTED for all of this!!

Comment #17 by pearl fanch on 2013 02 01

Kettle is brave and right to propose Right to Work for Rhode Island.

It’s just logical. If we became a RTW state it would instantly change our reputation as an anti-business state. Companies across the country would start putting RI on their list of possible places to build a plant or to do business.

And why don’t we already have a right not to join a union? It seems to me that it is a breach of our civil rights. We have a right to pursue employment. We have a right to join a union or not.

But Mr Kettle, might I suggest that another way to go about this is to first bring Voter Initiative to RI. The General Assembly controls what bills are heard and voted on and there are issues of public concern that will never be heard like RTW because these politicians are in the pocket of the unions. But a game changer would be Voter Initiative. Many states have this including Massachusetts and California. If voters could gather enough signatures to put an issue on the ballot we would have broken the stranglehold the General Assembly has on democracy in RI.

I truly think Right to Work would pass if the people could have a vote. E-verify would pass as well and a whole lot of things that would make sense for RI.

Comment #18 by James Berling on 2013 02 01

Art West - are you serious with your comment? Did you fall off the face of the earth while this was going on?? Bakers were earning $35,000 with overtime after working there for 23 years AND taking a massive pay cut to keep the business open, while the CEO received a huge pay increase? And if it wasn't for the union, they probably would have made $25k...but they are greedy, right? Wrong, get your facts straight about unions and then come back to the table. Union workers ARE NOT greedy. They are needed because upper management are so disconnected and are only concerned with lining their pockets! Check the different of pay between CEO's and regular workers. How is that fair? Middle class is dwindling all right - it's actually non-existent!

Comment #19 by DS knows on 2013 02 01

Right to work is an obvious positive for nearly every Rhode Islander, but I have been most concerned about the public sector where my tax dollars are being used to support unions that many people are forced to belong to. As an American citizen I believe it is wrong to force someone to join a union or pay union dues.I think most taxpayers believe as I do.A small group of Government employees that support restricting employment to those who must agree to join the union place an unnecessary restriction on the universe of potential teachers and qualified personnel able to serve us all.

Comment #20 by michael riley on 2013 02 01

DS knows,

Yes, it was a factual comment focused on who decided Hostess's closing. The bakers' union was provided the company's financial condition, but would not negotiate. Now they have no jobs.

Comment #21 by Art West on 2013 02 01

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.