A new coalition of community and organized labor groups called `Rhode Island Working Families’ is forming in the Ocean State to lobby the General Assembly and conduct grass-roots organizing around issues dear to working and middle-class families.
So far, the coalition includes Teamsters Local 251, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, the United Auto Workers union, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, UniteHere Local 217, Demand Progress and the Service Employees International Union 32bj.
The Working Families organization has been involved in nine other states and has been instrumental in campaigns on raising the minimum wage, obtaining family and sick leave for workers, increasing voting rights and on income inequality issues.
The R.I. Working Families group hopes to have an executive director on the job about September 1, says former State Rep. David Segal, D-Providence, long a mover in the state’s progressive political circles. So far, Segal says, the groups have raised more than $100,000 to finance the new initiative.
Rhode Island has not had a labor and community backed lobbying coalition since the demise in 2013 of Ocean State Action.
Mat Taibi, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 251, which has about 5,500 members and represents workers at United Parcel Service and 2,500 employees at the Lifespan Hospital Chain, says the new group is needed. ``This will give us an additional voice for working families,’’ he said. ``Working Families has done a lot of good work in other states and this will help us build a coalition here.’’
Mike Araujo of the Restaurant Opportunities Center, which lobbies on behalf of restaurant workers, says a new voice is needed to rally Rhode Islanders around such issues as server tip policies and health and welfare initiatives.
``This is a new way for us to reach out to coalition partners,’’ said Araujo.
Many on the progressive side of the Democratic Party have expressed frustration in recent years about the lack of policies that address income inequality at the General Assembly, despite the huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
The Working Families group has been organized in other states, including Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Illinois and in the nation’s capital district, the District of Columbia.