Pensions Make For Interesting Politics In Rhode Island Gubernatorial Race As Unions Pick Sides

Gina Raimondo

In Rhode Island’s gubernatorial race, pensions have muddied the waters of union politics. Gina Raimondo (D) is the one wielding union endorsements. But her opponent, Allan Fung (R), might have union voters on his side regardless.

Almost two-dozen unions have publicly endorsed Raimondo even though she rubbed public workers the wrong way when she froze COLAs and made other changes to the pension system in 2011.

Her challenger, Allan Fung (R), has won no union endorsements. But he’s more popular among union voters. From the Wall Street Journal:

Anger over pension cuts for state employees is driving many union voters in Rhode Island to cross party lines and back a Republican for governor, one of several midterm races roiled by battles over public pensions.

Democrat Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island’s treasurer, spearheaded legislation in 2011 to rein in public-employee pension obligations. Rancor over the move was still strong among union voters in a poll earlier this month, in which they favored Republican candidate Allan Fung over Ms. Raimondo, 42% to 30%; among all those surveyed she led by six points. A poll out Tuesday by Brown University found the race essentially tied.

[…]

Ms. Raimondo in Rhode Island said she understands public employees have “hard feelings” over the 2011 pension changes, which halted annual cost-of-living raises for retirees and forced certain state workers and teachers to move a portion of their retirement savings into 401(k)-style accounts.

“We always knew there could be political consequences, but it was clearly the right thing to do,” she said in an interview. “The good news is the pension system is healthier than it’s ever been. For teachers and state employees, the pension will actually be there for them.”

Mr. Fung also pushed through pension changes as mayor of Cranston, R.I., though they were less aggressive. He said union members who back him aren’t doing so merely to oppose Ms. Raimondo. He has played down a prior comment that he supported right-to-work laws, which forbid labor contracts that require union membership by workers. “The unions are there, and under my administration they’ll always have a seat across the table,” Mr. Fung said in an interview.

Broad labor support for Mr. Fung is striking because he has won no endorsements from unions, while Ms. Raimondo has garnered about two dozen endorsements, mostly from private-sector unions not affected by the state pension changes.

A list of unions that have endorsed Raimondo, according to her campaign website:

Bricklayers’ and Allied Craftsmen Local 3

Ironworkers’ Local 37

Plumbers’ & Pipefitters’ Local 51

Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ Local 40

Roofers’ and Waterproofers’ Local Union No. 33

Sprinkler Fitters Local 669

Operating Engineers’ Local 57

Sheet Metal Workers Local 17

United Steelworkers Local 12431

Elevator Constructors Local 39

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328

SEIU 1199 NE

IUPAT District Council 11

IBEW Local 99

32BJ SEIU

UNITE HERE Local 217

Carpenters Local 94

UWUA Local 310

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 618

 

 

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