University News

Labor groups rally for workers’ rights on Main Green

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First-years meandering through the Main Green at noon yesterday were treated to an unorthodox orientation event as 200 workers, union members and their advocates rallied to support unions and fair labor policies in honor of Labor Day. “I’m sure we’d all rather be grilling right now, but we have to make the world a better place,” said Chas Walker ’00, an organizer at the Service Employees International Union District 1199.

The rally, which brought together labor advocates from around the state, featured speakers from the Rhode Island chapter of the AFL-CIO, the General Assembly, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and SEIU. Other groups represented included the Rhode Island Unemployment Council, the People’s Assembly, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, Fuerza Labora, Jobs with Justice, Occupy Providence, Black Political Action Committee and We Are All Arizona Coalition – a group that fights for immigration reform.

Gathering around the flagpole on the Main Green holding signs bearing slogans such as “La lucha para prosperar” (The fight to prosper) and “Criar a nuestras familias” (To raise our families), the group celebrated the holiday with speeches and cheers supporting a variety of labor groups’ attempts to secure higher wages, improved working conditions and the chance to work “with dignity.” Though the speakers focused on celebrating labor in a broad sense, two groups currently involved in labor negotiations – the University’s Dining Service workers and New England janitors – received extra attention, though no University employees participated in the rally.

The janitors’ contracts expire Sept. 30, and they are currently engaged in negotiations with their employers. Laura Caceres, a contracted janitor in Providence and a member of the SEIU Local 615 contract bargaining committee, spoke in Spanish at the event about the difficulties of supporting her family with only a part-time job cleaning One Financial Plaza.

“I have three children, and they’re always on the computer, and they think that everything is within their reach, but the truth is that what we earn doesn’t cover it,” Caceres said through a translator.

George Nee, president of the Rhode Island chapter of the AFL-CIO, a union that represents more than 80,000 individuals throughout the state, criticized the Republican Party, which recently held its convention in Tampa Bay, Fla. He lambasted the party’s opposition to unions and perceived commitment to business leaders at the expense of workers. Nee mocked a skit performed by actor Clint Eastwood at the convention, in which the film star conversed with an empty chair where he pretended the president was seated. “At their convention, not only was there an empty chair, there were empty minds. There were empty hearts. There were empty thoughts. And they have an empty organization,” he said to the crowd.

Mike Sylvester, the deputy director of the higher education division at the SEIU Local 615, criticized the University in his remarks. He said the University has begun to function as a for-profit institution and is betraying the cause of educating young people, though that mission is what allows it to operate without taxation. “Higher education has fallen into the same trap of the wealthy getting wealthier while the poor and working people get further and further behind,” Sylvester told the crowd. 

“Here’s the deal we made with these universities. You can be nonprofit, but you have to provide a public good. You have to provide an affordable education that children can go to and you have to provide good jobs in the community,” he added.

After the final speech, the group marched off campus down to One Financial Plaza, chanting in both English and Spanish, to continue the rally.

  • Anonymous

    fantastic encouraging brown gives workers a voice

  • Anonymous

    Go home commies!