Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising, September 28, 2018

“First Student, right here in Rhode Island, has blatantly violated the trust of its employees and their obligation to contribute toward retirement benefits.” Matt Taibi, Teamsters Local 251 Secretary-Treasurer Welcome to The Uprising! National news took over yesterday with the Senate confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh in the wake of the sexual assault accusations of Christine Blasey Ford, but in
Photo for The Uprising, September 28, 2018

Published on September 28, 2018
By Steve Ahlquist

First Student, right here in Rhode Island, has blatantly violated the trust of its employees and their obligation to contribute toward retirement benefits.”

Matt Taibi, Teamsters Local 251 Secretary-Treasurer

Welcome to The Uprising!

National news took over yesterday with the Senate confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh in the wake of the sexual assault accusations of Christine Blasey Ford, but in state news there was debate featuring three of the six candidates for Governor of Rhode Island and in Providence there was a school bus strike impacting around 9000 students.

Let’s break it down into bite-sized chunks:

1. School bus strike

As school began in Providence yesterday, dozens of bus drivers picketed at the corner of Ricom Way and Union Avenue as negotiations between Teamsters Local 251 and First Student Inc broke down over the issue of defined pensions.

During the picket in Providence workers were chanting, “We want pensions!”

Parents and guardians were forced to find alternative ways to get their students where they needed to be, which made for a more chaotic commute before and after school. But the first day of the strike could have been worse: It could have been raining.

Today it’s raining.

More seriously, a 13-year old girl was hit by a car while riding a Jump Bike to school instead of a bus. Fortunately she suffered only minor injuries.

Information about the City of Providence’s response to the strike can be found by calling (401) 919-5271 or visiting the Providence Schools website.

In February, in Seattle, Washington, bus drivers represented by Teamsters Local 174 were on strike for 9 days before reaching an agreement with First Student Inc.

Fun fact: First Student is owned by a company based out of Scotland.

2a. Gubernatorial Debate

Incumbent Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo faced off against Republican Challenger Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Independent Joseph Trillo in the first gubernatorial debate for the general election on Channel 12/WPRI. Not invited to participate in the debate were Moderate Party nominee William Gilbert, Independent Luis Daniel Muñoz and Compassion Party candidate Anne Armstrong.

“I believe that the exclusion criteria created and enforced by WPRI and its parent company is inherently DISCRIMINATORY, and I have written a letter to the FCC, Rhode Island Board of Elections, and WPRI staff to express my concerns,” wrote Muñoz in an oped.

Muñoz and supporters staged a silent protest outside the debate.

You can watch the debate here:

2b. Gina Raimondo

The Rhode Island Democratic Party issued a series of six “Fact Checks” during the debate. These small press releases painted a picture of a Allan Fung as a corrupt, pro-Trump right-wing extremist, with plenty of links to stories to back up the claims.

  • FACT CHECK: Mayor Fung Refused to Denounce Trump’s Family Separation Policy
  • FACT CHECK: Mayor Fung has an ‘A’ from the NRA
  • FACT CHECK: Mayor Fung’s Cranston is a Hotbed of Corruption
  • FACT CHECK: Fung is an Anti-Choice, Pro-Trump Candidate
  • FACT CHECK: Mayor Fung has an ‘A’ from the NRA
  • FACT CHECK: Fung Tolerated A Dozen Claims of Gender Discrimination in Cranston

2c. Allan Fung

“He can’t answer a question like that. It’s too difficult! He’s both pro-life and pro-choice,” said Joe Trillo as Allan Fung clumsily attempted to split the difference on a yes-or-no, lightning round question on reproductive rights.

For the record, Trillo is pro-life and Raimondo pro-choice.

Fung’s position is pro-life, but seeming to know that his position will cost him votes in the upcoming election, he’s trying to nuance the question. Fung has the endorsement of Rhode Island Right to Life and has previously declined to answer this question directly when asked by the Providence Journal.

“I’ve always supported a woman’s right to make medical decisions,” said Fung on RIPR, which in no way answers the question as to how he would act on the issue of legalized abortion. As for the Reproductive Health Care Act, which would codify Roe v Wade into state law, Fung said he would not support it as currently written, because it does not have a series of exceptions he feels it needs.

2d. Joseph Trillo

Joseph Trillo is Rhode Island’s mini-Trump, but is he wrong when he talks about the corrupting nature of money in politics? He sounds more like Senator Sheldon Whitehouse than President Donald Trump when he says, “Where do you think the money comes from? It comes from all the special interests that control your tax dollars. The special interests are the lobbyists and the corporations that want favors. Do you think they give away large sums of money? … What they do is they run fundraisers for people. They raise $50,000 for them, because they are only allowed to give $1000.

“They are both bought and paid for by every special interest group and that’s why nothing gets done in the state,” said Trillo, pointing at Raimondo and Fung.

Trillo’s solution to this problem, however, doesn’t seem much of an improvement.

He’s rich and funding his own campaign. Kind of like a one-man special interest group, or Batman.

Batman has a Batmobile, Trillo has a Trillomobile.

3a. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh

Justine Caldwell, Democratic candidate for Rhode Island House District 30 (East Greenwich, West Greenwich) compared the hearings in Washington to the failure of the House to pass any of the bills that came out of Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett)’s Special House Committee on Sexual Harassment.

Caldwell says her opponent, Representative Antonio Giarrusso, is part of the problem:

“He’s a perfect illustration. After the reports about sexual harassment at the State House, leaders at least decided to do a training on sexual harassment. Representative Giarrusso not only skipped it, but then went on a press tour to brag about skipping it. When he got criticism for it, he managed to get himself appointed to the sexual harassment commission at the State House. Appointing someone to a sexual harassment commission who brags about skipping sexual harassment training is a failure of both parties’ leadership at the State House….

“It’s no surprise that a flawed process, with people like Representative Giarrusso so uninterested in this problem they didn’t even want to go to training about it, would result in so little action.”

3b. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed

“Judge Kavanaugh exhibited temperament Americans do not want in fair judges,” said Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in a statement. “He was discourteous, lashing out at senators raising legitimate questions, and made unfounded conspiracy allegations about imagined plots by political enemies. That temperament is unacceptable in a courtroom.”

“There is no question that Dr Ford was credible, factual, and straightforward,” said Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed. “Judge Kavanaugh, on the other hand, was intemperate, partisan, and evasive… approving Judge Kavanaugh now will only serve to further harden the view that the Supreme Court is a partial and partisan institution. The committee should put politics aside and ask the FBI to pursue an investigation into the credible allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.”

Senator Whitehouse wrote an oped for NBC news here.

“Kavanaugh is the one who should be calling for an FBI investigation, and for the alleged witness in the room to testify. Instead, he has been complicit in avoiding a full and fair investigation.”

4a. Invenergy

“What today’s postponement means is that Invenergy is a zombie. It may not realize yet that it’s dead, but it’s dead,” said Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer at the conclusion of Wednesday morning’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) hearing.

Invenergy’s attorney, Michael Blazer, disagreed. “We are not dead… Whether or not we have a capacity supply obligation, we are proceeding forward with this project,” said Blazer to ecoRI‘s Tim Faulkner. “We do not need a CSO for this project to be economically viable.”

Either way, the hearings to license the proposed $1 billion have shut down for two months, pending the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s approval of ISO New England‘s request to terminate Invenergy’s Capacity Supply Obligation (CSO).

4b. Raimondo, Trillo and Fung

At the Channel 12/WPRI debate, both Joseph Trillo and Allan Fung oppose Invenergy’s proposed power plant on the NIMBYist grounds that the people in Burrillville oppose it.

Asked how she squares her support for renewable energy and a healthy climate with her support for Invenergy’s fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant, Governor Gina Raimondo answered, “It’s very consistent. Rhode Islanders need and deserve affordable, stable, clean energy and [Invenergy’s power plant] is going through a regulatory process with which I cannot and will not interfere and we have to see if it gets through the process. Let’s let the facts play out. Let’s let the process play out and see if it gets through the process.”

“Unlike the governor, who ducked that question, probably because she took donations from Invenergy, who’s part of that project, I support local control…” said Fung, before being cut off by Trillo.

“You took donations from them too!” said Trillo.

“Joe please, let’s have a little respect,” said Fung.

“You took donations too,” said Trillo.

“Mayor, it is offensive that you say that,” said Raimondo. “We all take money. We have to. I follow the rules… I answer to the people of Rhode Island. Period. And everything I’ve ever done has been to help Rhode Islanders, create more jobs… There’s no relationship between any campaign contributions and any decisions that I’ve made.”

4c. PUC Advisory Opinion

Way back in 2016, a single member of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Herbert DeSimone Jr, wrote an advisory opinion to the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) that was highly favorable to Invenergy’s proposed power plant. The other two members of the PUC had recused themselves. When Burrillville objected to a Single Commissioner Advisory Opinion the single commissioner, DeSimone, overruled the objection.

Now Burrillville lawyers Michael McElroy and William Dimitri have filed a Motion to Reject DeSimone’s Advisory Opinion. DeSimone’s opinion was that the power plant was needed for system reliability and would save consumers money. Both those conclusions have not been borne out by recent facts.

In their Motion to Reject, Burrillville is arguing that under Rhode Island State law at least two PUC commissioners are required to legally render an advisory opinion. In a previous case from 2009, the PUC acknowledged that a single commissioner cannot issue a valid opinion to the PUC. Instead, the PUC in 2009 transferred all filings made within the PUC docket to the EFSB, so that the EFSB could directly hear and evaluate all evidence on the issues of need and cost.

Burrillville raised these objections during the PUC hearings and is raising them again now.

4d. Starwood Energy Group

Dominion Energy has reached an agreement to sell the Manchester Street Power Station to Starwood Energy Group, a private investment firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut that “specializes in energy infrastructure investments.”

As part of that deal, Dominion has agreed to sell Starwood the 1,240 MW Fairless Power Station located 25 miles outside of Philadelphia in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania as well.

The combined deal will cost Starwood $1.23 billion in cash.

Dominion Energy recently negotiated a revised tax stabilization agreement with the City of Providence. That deal failed to pass out of the Providence City Council Finance Committee when representatives from Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s office asked that the new deal be delayed, for reasons the Mayor’s office has so far refused to comment on.

My APRA request for documents related to this new tax stabilization agreement is still pending. For background, see:

The Providence City Council wants to give Manchester Street Power Station a $150,000 tax break

Dominion lawyer says $150,000 tax stabilization reduction is actually an increase


All the talk about energy production misses the fact that transportation is one of the leading contributors to climate change and not a lot is being done to address it. One novel and very doable idea, courtesy of public transportation advocate, Professor Barry Schiller, a contributor to UpriseRI who served on the RIPTA Board from 1995-99 and currently serves on RIPTA’s Finance Committee, is free bus fare for all.

Schiller addressed the RIPTA Board during public comment and presented the following points in favor of his idea:

  • About of third of RIPTA’s passengers already ride free.
  • There are new opportunities because the state departments concerned with climate change, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Division of Planning are “finally dealing with transportation.” Efforts have been focused on energy generation but transportation is the biggest and fastest growing area of green house gas emissions.
  • The cost isn’t as great as might be assumed. Riders pay about $12.3 million. With other payments into the system the revenue that would have to be made up comes to about $14 million. “Not insignificant,” said Schiller, “but not an outrageous reach.” Schiller also pointed out the opportunity for savings: No fare box processing, not printing of passes, no fare box maintenance. And of course, it would speed up boarding.
  • It would put Rhode Island on the map: We would be the only state in the country with free bus service.

5a. North Smithfield anti-Nike resolution

It should have been a slam-dunk. All North Smithfield Town Council President John Beauregard had to do was call the meeting to order, call for a vote to rescind the very unpopular and racist anti-Nike resolution pass one week previously, and then close the meeting.

Instead, Beauregard decided to read a statement. One highlight:

“I also apologize to the people of North Smithfield for the unwanted attention this has brought. Some groups have actually called for protests at out children’s sporting events. Makes me wonder what kind of people make threats against innocent children just to make their political…”

The crowd erupted in protest. “Oh, shut up!” said a man. “Shut the fuck up!”

“Who said that?” asked Beauregard. “Who said that?”

“I did!” said an older man, shaking with rage.

“Out!” said Beauregard.

“Good!” said the man, heading for the exit.

Here’s visual storyteller John Polen‘s coverage of the event:

5b. Megan Staples

As a result of the North Smithfield Town Council’s anti-Nike resolution kerfuffle, resident Megan Staples is running as a write-in candidate.

If elected to the Town Council, my goal is to serve as a representative of our residents’ vision for our Town, offering my experience and enthusiasm to effect tangible change,” says Staples on her website. “I can’t say I’ll give you perfection, I’m young and I’m still learning, but I have a teachable spirit. I value others, I utilize discernment, I appreciate perspective and I hunger to learn, and that is what I have to offer our wonderful Town.”

Megan Staples

6. Overtime

The United States Department of Labor (DOL) plans to update the Part 541 white-collar exemption regulations, often referred to as the “Overtime Rule.” Issued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, these regulations implement exemptions from the overtime pay requirements for executive, administrative, professional, and certain other employees.

In May of 2016, DOL published a revised 2016 overtime rule which proposed an increase in overtime salary threshold levels, from $23,660 to $47,476 per year. In November 2016, Federal District Court Judge Amos Mazzan enjoined the rule, preventing DOL from implementing and enforcing it.

On August 21, 2017, the same court held that the final rule salary level exceeded DOL’s authority and concluded that the final rule is invalid. On October 30, 2017, DOL appealed that decision to the Fifth Circuit. However, at DOL’s request, the Fifth Circuit is holding the appeal in abeyance while DOL engages in rule making.

Hence a series of “listening sessions” held across the country by DOL. Providence was the location of the last such session.

“One of the many reasons reasons wages for American workers have stagnated is the “antiquated overtime threshold” said Douglas Hall, director of economic and fiscal policy the Economic Progress Institute. “Not only has the overtime threshold been stagnant since 2004, it’s never been meaningfully inflation adjusted since it was set in 1975.”

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7. Obamacare

Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order this week to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, from the Trump administration’s ongoing attempts to undermine the program. The executive order charges state agencies, including the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), HealthSource RI (HSRI) and the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner with “taking all necessary actions to protect access to quality healthcare, maintaining affordability and ensuring the public is informed and educated about their options.”

8. No Guns in Schools

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) opposes gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung’s plan to “place a School Resource Officer or police detail at every school” in Rhode Island and “split the cost with each city and town.”

9. Jennifer Rourke

Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) referred to his Democratic primary challenger, Jennifer Rourke, as “other” in a tweet about his re-election. After the tweet was pointed out to me by a woman who didn’t want to be public about her concern, I tweeted the following:

It is really so hard to give a political opponent the basic respect of a proper name?

10. Groundhog Day: Anita Hill 2.0

Ria Moni at The Woman Project writes:

“It feels like history repeats itself as if time is not linear at all. Nazis are back and marching through the streets. Anti-black racism is as fervent as it has ever been. Cops are killing unarmed black men in their own homes and accountability and justice are nowhere in sight.  Civil rights are at risk of being rolled back and everyday it feels like some new terror is about to spring up. Republicans continue to put up alleged abusers as viable options to represent the republic. President Pussy Grabber is holding fascist rallies masquerading as campaign events.  So maybe it is not that history repeats itself (or that we are stuck in a time loop from hell) but that we have never fully gotten to the root of the problems that plague us as a society.  We have never gone through the necessary steps of atoning for the original sins of this country. The truth is, the United States was founded on anti-black racism and patriarchy that coalesced into what we now call Rape Culture.”

Read it all here.

11. The Devil’s Triangle

There was a discussion between Brett Kavanaugh and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse discussion concerning the Devil’s Triangle, as mentioned in Kavanaugh’s Yearbook. Is it a drinking game, as Kavanaugh suggests, or a sexual encounter between two men and one woman?

Bob Plain at RI Future examines the question.

12. ACLU

“With legal assistance from the ACLU of Rhode Island, SouthCoast Fair Housing (SCFH) today filed a federal lawsuit against the Rhode Island Supreme Court over a court rule that is preventing the organization from providing legal help to victims of housing discrimination in Rhode Island. As the rule is currently written, non-profit organizations cannot obtain a license to practice law in the state unless they serve only ‘indigent’ clients. This is despite the fact that the Court’s own rules recognize that it is not just the poor, but ‘sometimes persons who are not poor’ who are unable to afford adequate legal assistance.”

13. Voltairine de Cleyre

The New York Times has finally gotten around to writing an obituary for atheist and anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre, “the poet-rebel, the liberty-loving artist, the greatest woman anarchist of America.”

14. Picture of the Week:

About 20 people showed up outside National Grid in the Port of Providence to say “No LNG in PVD.” The smell of gas and chemicals in the air, during a beautiful, sunny day, was dizzying and made the protesters feel nauseous and headache-y. I know that Enbridge was doing scheduled maintenance on the Algonquin pipeline up the road and was intermittently releasing quantities of odorized natural gas. (See: item 3b here.)

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