Some People say that Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey's thrashing of a labor-union puppet in his Republican primary last week offers proof that Rhode Island's public-employee unions are far from the juggernauts they are often made out to be.The reason is because, unlike in most primary elections, or most general for that matter, the heat of the race in Cranston brought a lot of attention to the actors behind the scenes. In other races, where no such scrutiny was to be found, Montanaro and his cronies were much more effective.
I think that they're wrong.
What the voters' 3-to-1 drubbing of union factotum Garry Reilly really revealed is that the public, even in Rhode Island, has the upper hand whenever it is warned and informed. In less publicized elections, watch out.
It's true that Cranston voters dealt a stinging blow to AFL-CIO and Blue Cross boss Frank Montanaro and his pals in organized labor, who had dumped thousands of dollars and other resources into trying to eliminate Mr. Laffey for his daring to speak out for the taxpayers. In their now-famous letter to union members, Robert Walsh and Larry Purtill of the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) declared that it "seems to be an appropriate time to stop Laffey's political career." Instead of stopping his career, they turned him into a folk hero.
Nevertheless, Mr. Montanaro was not just spinning when he argued the public-employee unions had a pretty good day last Tuesday. By my calculations, their endorsed candidates for the legislature won all but a few of the contested primaries.
One of the people Mr. Montanaro helped beat was the Democratic Party's endorsed candidate in House District 32, Dale Grogan, a North Kingstown Town Council member and clean-water champion. She had crossed Mr. Montanaro on at least two counts: in opposing construction of a container port at Quonset, and in fighting to force firefighters to pay a small share of their health-insurance premiums. Mr. Montanaro, as president of the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters, didn't like that one bit.Her refusal to kowtow to the bosses ended up in the union cabal endorsing her opponent and Mrs. Grogan losing by 37 votes. I've never been known as a Democrat, but I am all for crushing the corruption in this state, regardless of party affiliation. Achorn provides some of the agenda to which the citizens of Rhode Island are up against:
Nonetheless, on July 27, Mr. Montanaro and his cohort, George Nee, sent Mrs. Grogan a letter informing her that the AFL-CIO was "now in the process of making political endorsements" in her race. "Please send a written request for endorsement within five days of receiving this letter, and we will notify you of the interview schedule for the [union endorsement] committee in your district. Your interview committee will seek your position on issues important to working people."
Mrs. Grogan, who runs a store in Wickford, declined the invitation, which she described as an "audience" with the bosses.
"I would never say I'm anti-union. My father-in-law was very active in the postal union," she said. But "I just want to be honest. I just want to go to the State House to vote my conscience. . . . My only political concern is the people of North Kingstown, and what's in their interest."
Achorn also noted that the National Education Association of Rhode Island had its hands in the campaign against Mrs. Grogan too.
According to the AFL-CIO Web site, its legislative concerns include: opposing charter schools that are not controlled by teachers unions; beefing up the powers of the state Labor Relations Board (whose votes Mr. Montanaro controls); expanding collective bargaining to government employees below "top-level" managerial positions; opposing any attempt to save taxpayers money by privatizing public services. Whether such measures serve the public's interest, I leave it to the reader to judge.
So Mr. Montanaro had at least some reason to smile through his black eye last Tuesday. And it seems premature, to say the least, to declare that the public-employee unions are political weaklings.It sure is. Hopefully more will take the time to THINK about who they are voting for on November 2. That is the only way we can return this state to our hands, and out of those of the unions.
Still, one must say that an informed public -- as the energized voters of Cranston so dramatically demonstrated -- acts far differently from one unaware of sub rosa attempts to control the political process. Information is power.