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Unions Battle Taveras Over Development in Providence

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


A City Hall battle is brewing between building trades and the Taveras administration -- over tax stabilization agreements with developers.

Members of the building trades community are saying the Taveras administration is going back on its previously pledged support for 100% apprenticeships on developments in Providence with tax stabilization agreements, as the Providence City Council has begun considering changes to TSAs on new -- and possibly old -- developments.

Recent proposals before the City Council for TSAs for the Kinsley Building downtown -- as well as another project -- are looking at tax stabilization proposals with 50% apprenticeship requirements, to none at all, according to Providence Council member Luis Aponte. "It will be interesting to see how the building trades will proceed," said Aponte.

"We'd been given assurances by Mayor Taveras when he took office -- and as recently as last year -- that he would continue to support 100% apprenticeships on TSAs," said Scott Duhamel, with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, as well as Secretary-Treasurer for the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council. "The Mayor made a huge political mistake. The one thing we can't handle is when someone goes back on his word."

Unions Question Change in Course

Unions argue apprenticeships are cost-effective, and develop the workforce of tomorrow.

Duhamel addressed what he saw as the benefits of apprenticeships to the community -- and where the opposition to them could be coming from.

"Apprenticeships get young people on a path to career," said Duhamel. "We have an aging, baby boomer workforce -- our average age is 48. We've known that we need more youth than ever before coming into the trades. The industry has been historically white males, but that's changing. We're expanding our diversity, and apprenticeships bring on local youth. Building Futures is a great example."

"Every day you see people talking about workforce development. We're not lacking workforce development in the trades, we're lacking places to put people," said Duhamel. "And we don't need any help in workforce development, we spend our own dough."

Duhamel explained that "100%" meant that 100% of sub-contractors on the job had to have apprencticeship programs -- and that 50% meant that only 50% of the subcontractors would have to have them.

"Apprenticeships are a union-neutral policy. We have great programs, but there are many open shop (non-union) contractors and sub-contractors with apprentice programs," said Duhamel. "Apprentice programs mean that you hire someone younger and cheaper and equip them with the skills to be a journeyperson."

Duhamel spoke to the impact that having 50% apprenticeships could have on the industry. "We told [the City] 50% apprenticeship? We'd rather have zero. 50% puts us in a tough position," noting that laborers and carpenters would fill the need, and then leave other trades behind. 

According to the Building Trades Council, which includes 15 trades -- including carpenters and laborers, who could still benefit from the 50% requirment -- Duhamel says that they "don't want it watered down."

The City of Providence did not respond to request for comment.  

Impact on Projects?

The City of Providence, along with the City Council, had begun discussions last fall to examine TSAs and their fiscal impact on the city. Duhamel said the at the end of December, he met with members of the Mayor's staff, who informed him of the proposed changes to apprenticeship requirements.

Duhamel said that he was told in that meeting that "7 different developers came to the city, and said they wouldn't work here because a TSA with 100% apprenticeship would be too costly."

"We said this makes no sense," said Duhamel. "Right off the bat, there's a savings with apprentices, they're paid less. Anyone developer talking about "price difference" is a thinly veiled way of saying "anti-union."

"So I sent a FOIA to the city asking for those seven developer names," said Duhamel. "What I got was two new projects currently in negotiation -- the West End affordable housing development, and the Kinsley Building. No mention of who those seven other developers supposedly were."

See public records request here; see City response here.  

One developer, Gilbane Development, who had negotiated for a TSA for its project currnetly underway off of Thayer Street which was ultimately wasn't agreed to by the City Council in 2012, ultimately went forth with their project without a TSA.  

However, a pending TSA proposal by Gilbane Development is still sitting in the City Council Ways and Means Committee.

"Gilbane Development had originally wanted a no apprenticeship requirement on the job as part of the TSA," said Michael Sabitoni, President of the Rhode Island Building and Trades Construction Council. "It's possible they could be waiting for the dust to settle here now."

Gilbane did not respond to comment as to whether they are still seeking a tax stabilization agreement with the City.

Sabitoni added that he was hearing of proposed tax rate changes on existing TSAs, which would have an impact on developers.

"Prior commitments under TSAs -- now the city has revised those numbers, those pro-formas no longer work," said Sabitoni. "I know there's a $35 million project hanging in the balance. If you're a developer in the city right now, you're not sure what is going on." 

Ordinance Challenges Affordable Housing Tax Stabilization 

TSAs for affordable housing

In January, GoLocal reported on an affordable housing development in the West End proposed for Dexter Street that was seeking the 8% tax treatment for deed restricted -- i.e. affordable housing -- properties, but instead was offered by a TSA by the city.  The move was met with opposition by a number of housing and community groups, arguing the developer could back out under the new tax proposal the tax rate uncertainty.  

Last week, a proposal was introduced in the City Council to see that the property receives the 8% treatment as originally anticipated.

"It's been introduced, and we have 13 cosponsors," said Councilman Aponte. "This reaffirms the council's support for the development and sustainability of affordable housing in the city."  


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Taveras Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

Prev Next

#10 Fundraising

Can Taveras Keep Up with the Big Boys and Girls in Fundraising?

In America today, one issue that is a factor in nearly every election is fundraising. To date, Taveras has yet to demonstrate any consistent ability to keep up with the leading fundraisers in RI.

Taveras will have to compete with General Treasuer Gina Raimondo, who has $2 plus million on hand and a likely run from Clay Pell (grandson of US Senator Claiborne Pell and whose wife is Olympic skater Michelle Kwan).

Raimondo is on pace to raise $5m and Taveras presently has just $692,000 on hand and would be on pace to raise less than $2 mliion. 

Pell's family has access to nearly limitless dollars - back in the 1990's Pell's grandfather was ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

Prev Next

#9 Curse

Can Taveras Break the Providence Mayor's Curse?

For more than 60 years, no Providence Mayor has been successful running for Governor of Rhode Island. You have to go back to the 1950 election when Dennis Roberts was elected Governor.

Since Roberts, a number of Providence Mayors have taken their shot at running for Governor and each has failed mightily.

Most notably, Buddy Cianci's run against J. Joseph Garrahy - Cianci got less than 30% of the statewide vote.

Joe Paolino was expected to win the Democratic primary in 1990, but was beaten badly by Bruce Sundlun and then Warwick Mayor Frank Flaherty.

Sundlun went on to win the general election and Flaherty was later named to the state Supreme Court.

Taveras will have to break a very long curse.

Prev Next

#8 Hire or Fire

Can Teachers Trust Taveras - and Will Voters Trust His Relationship with the Teachers Unions?

In the midst of the city's political meltdown, Taveras just into his first few months in office fired all the teachers in Providence.

Taveras received strong public support, but within months he capitulated to pressure from the teachers' unions.

Three years later, he is emerging as the candidate of the teachers' union leadership. Will teachers trust him in a statewide race and will voters trust him if he is perceived as too close to union bosses?

Prev Next

#7 Hispanics

Will Hispanics Vote as a Block in the Primary for Taveras? Are They Influential Enough in the General?

Conventional wisdom is that Angel Taveras will get a big boost from the Hispanic voting block in the primary, but more recently Council members Luis Aponte, Danian Sanchez and Sabina Matos have all openly battled with the mayor on his tax increases and efforts to close pools in low income wards around the city.

While Taveras can rebound and the impact may be large in the primary, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic in the general election is just 7% according to Pew Research:

  • Rhode Island’s population is 12% Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic population share nationally.
  • There are 54,000 Hispanic eligible voters in Rhode Island—which ranks 35th in Hispanic eligible voter population nationally. California ranks first with 5.9 million.
  • Some 7% of Rhode Island eligible voters are Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic eligible voter population share nationally. New Mexico ranks first with 39%.
Prev Next

#6 Temperament

Can Taveras Handle the Campaign Pressure and the Office Pressure of Governor?

Taveras had no experience as a chief executive in business or government before taking office in 2011 in Providence. He has increasingly gotten into some very non-productive scrapes.

In 2012, his law office delivered a document to GoLocalProv as part of a FOIA request and those documents included the social security number of every retiree of the City. Instead of taking responsibility he sent his lawyers to court to try to block GoLocal from writing about the mishandling of social security numbers. The judge ruled against Taveras.

In 2013, Taveras has tried to demolish a commuity swimming pool in South Providence because, according to Councilman Danian Sanchez, Sanchez would not vote for Taveras' tax increase.

Will Taveras be able to prove to voters he has the right stuff?

Prev Next

#5 Base outside Prov

Can Angel Taveras Build a Political Base Outside of Providence?

While Taveras has a strong political base in Providence, it is unclear if he can build a strong political network in critical Democratic strongholds like Woonsocket, Pawtucket, East Providence, Johnston and North Providence.

It is well known that both Democratic Mayors in North Providence and Johnston have had a strained relationship with Taveras.

This strain has played out over critical matters like mutual emergency aid and in 2012, North Providence, Johnston and East Providence all cancelled emergency aid compacts with Providence.

Prev Next

#4 Women Voters

Can Taveras Compete for Women Voters?

When Taveras ran for Mayor he won the critical block of East Side Democratic women. Part of his success with this critical block of voters was the support he enjoyed from Democratic power Myrth York. 

The two-time Democratic nominee for Governor went all in for Taveras in 2010, but she no longer is active in the inner circle and reportedly would have supported Governor Lincoln Chafee in the primary.

Taveras will need to compete with Raimondo who has already signed former EMILY's list bigwig Kate Coyne-McCoy.

Prev Next

#3 Star Power

Can Taveras Keep Up with Clay Pell's Star Power?

In 2010, Taveras ran under the motto of "from Head Start to Harvard."  His claim on the American dream proved a successful juxtaposition to two Democrats who had the same political base - Federal Hill (Steven Costantino and John Lombardi).

Now, Taveras may face the fresh-faced Clay Pell. His bio exceeds Taveras as he can claim the legacy of his grandfather's work and hit the circuit with his superstar wife, Olympian Michelle Kwan.

Prev Next

#2 Issues and Vision

Can Angel Taveras Articulate a Vision for Rhode Island?

Taveras earned good scores for managing the City of Providence's financial crises, but never seemed to develop major policies for economic development, schools, parking, crime, reducing the cost of government or improving the efficiency.
The Superman building's closure happened on his watch, technology company Dassault Systèmes is moving out of Providence, and no major employers were recruited into the city other than the scrap yard on Allens Avenue.
Taveras will need to define a forward looking vision for Rhode Island.
Prev Next

#1 Crime and Education

Can Taveras Explain His Record on Crime and Education?

The biggest problem for Taveras is his record in Providence.
Most people care about the basics - their jobs, education for their children, how safe their neighborhood is.  These vary questions could be Taveras' Achilles' heel.
According to GoLocal's study of the FBI crime data, Providence is ranked #2 for violent crime per capita in Rhode Island.
The condition of Providence's schools may be worse. Of the 24 schools ranked as poor (de facto failing) in Rhode Island by the Department of Education, 6 of them were Providence Schools and in the rankings of the best high schools in the state, most of Providence's schools consistently litter the bottom of the rankings.
Taveras lead the city to win the $5 million Bloomberg award. But in a Governor's race one of Taveras' opponents is sure to ask, "Mr. Mayor, are you going to bring the same policies you used on crime and education in Providence to the rest of the state?"

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Public projects are big money. Politicians love to spend other peoples money. Taveras backing out of his commitments really shows how broke Providence is..... In case anybody hadn't got the memo.

Comment #1 by Redd Ratt on 2014 01 22

Dont forget Solomon, says hes for unions and then hires nonunion workers to remodel his restaurant!

Comment #2 by anthony sionni on 2014 01 22

When you make a promise to the unions you are making a promise to the people, a promise to hard working folk. An empty promise or in this case a half empty promise is clear case of the old bait and switch game. Draw them in for support then slam the door on them. If he spoke before he was sure he could do what he promised then that is a major problem of someone seeking the Governors office.If he knew and broke the promise anyway because he saw a better deal to benefit himself which I tend to believe is the case is then can you just imagine this practice and greed as Governor? Unions, people, hard working families speak out and don't fall for the pieces of candy that are being laid out to draw you in. He broke his promise on the pools now this. What will be next? Hold these people like Taveras accountable!

Comment #3 by Ed Doyle on 2014 01 22

Don't forget the schools that he closed causing an uproar especially in the west end acting like the passive aggressive , fake marriage ( see Rapp. off air conversation) biatch that TaverASS is. Now we have to open more schools because of their total screw up i'm the boss mentality. Idiot, as is any who support this banana republic chooch.

Comment #4 by lupe fiasco on 2014 01 22

If the developers say its more expensive using union apprentices, then the union is out. Training union apprentices is only furthering the union grip on construction and inflated costs. The time of the unions is past in most parts of the USA for a simple reason, there is no value add other than to the unions dues at the cost of taxpayer money that goes into investments.
Having the unions in a position that dictates to the city or any RI location on how the city bests spends it capital is ridiculous, taxpayer didn't sign on for additional expenses, nor did we sign on for unions. There are plenty of young men and women that are in the trades and don't want to be part of a union. They want to create and build a career and possibly be on there own in a business that they start or contribute to.
Time of the unions is past, get them out of the way, it will help RI recover, if at all.

Comment #5 by Gary Arnold on 2014 01 22

This just another snap shot of how unions have too much control over government around here. Do democrats need unions more than unions need democrats?

Comment #6 by David Beagle on 2014 01 22

Did some of you miss this quote:
"Apprenticeships are a union-neutral policy. We have great programs, but there are many open shop (non-union) contractors and sub-contractors with apprentice programs," said Duhamel. "Apprentice programs mean that you hire someone younger and cheaper and equip them with the skills to be a journeyperson."
Duhamel's point is a valid one. While unemployment among young workers is higher than in other demographics and current construction workers are closing in on retirement, should we anticipate that there will be no skilled tradesmen to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure in this state? Pell looks a whole lot more qualified to be our next governor than any of the other people with their feet in the race. Tavaras have enough mis-steps in his record to be defeated for mayor.

Comment #7 by Joan Overcash on 2014 01 22

Taveras only works with gay men. As a gay man himself who won't make it public he is against hard working straight men. That is what happens when he keeps everything bottled up. Can't live with himself. He will break eventually. Everything comes out in the end. Once he opens up things will start coming out the end.

Comment #8 by Jackson Teller on 2014 01 22

@Joan, So why are the unions in an uproar? The developers bring in their own crews that are a mix of established and new trainees. The union has only one interest and that is dues paying workers.
Construction is a great way to get more employed and the more cost effective the projects the more projects will be going at the same time, hence, more jobs. The facts are there are a lot of workers of middle age unemployed with families that want to do this work and a lot of younger folks too. The reality is the families want to or have to stay in RI therefor will work their butts off to maintain steady work. the young workforce will migrate to other states. Just not enough jobs being created in RI to get everyone back to work.
Rather than the unions saying they want more, why don't we hear about the unions helping attract more business to RI by being creative in working with new businesses. Here is an example, the unions have millions in the bank, they should invest in new businesses to attract manufacturing jobs that they could fill. New businesses would welcome some creative economic development ideas in RI that would make sense for them too. Current RI mentality is out of touch to what competitive programs other states are using. I've talked to the RIEDC and they will tell you straight up they have no strategies that can compete with MA or NY or any other state. So here is a chance for the unions to step up with their deep pockets and put up or shut up.

Comment #9 by Gary Arnold on 2014 01 22

this city is done,done and done!...I suggest you empty your bank account (if you have one) sell your property pack up and get out. There is no vision or leadership here,there is only high taxes and despair here.

Comment #10 by LENNY BRUCE on 2014 01 23

For a developer, the apprentice program doesn't mean "... you hire someone younger and cheaper and equip them with the skills to be a journey person." It means you must hire a subcontractor sponsor who is actively enrolled in the program and then you are effectively hiring one person at the cost of two since the sub contractor has to pay their apprentice a wage. Even if you a well funded project and decide not to use the unions, this gets expensive quick. In addition, in Rhode Island, not every area of construction is set up with journey persons who are enrolled in the apprenticeship program. Electricians make up more than half of the sponsors in the program, leaving developers with limited options in other areas such as masonry or even carpentry.
There is also an issue of bias since the person consulting for the city regarding hiring on construction sites, Andrew Cortes, is the director of the Building Futures program, which is heavily tied to unions. The city should have chosen someone who was not tied to any program/agenda to work with the developers.
Funny enough, Gilbane Development, who didn't want to comply with the apprenticeship requirement either, has someone sitting on the Building Futures council, which seems hypocritical to me.
Perhaps Ms. Nagle should keep digging

Comment #11 by Ginger Rogers on 2014 01 23

If the Unions are upset, it must be a good idea!

What's the difference between a cancer eating away and killing a body from the inside out and a Union? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Comment #12 by C B11 on 2014 01 24

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