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Labor & Business

Chambers of Commerce weaponize coronavirus against workers



“It is so coincidental that the coronavirus is aiding the opposition to this bill…” said House Labor Chair Anastasia Williams with some sarcasm.

Highly paid lobbyists appeared before the House Labor Committee on Wednesday to testify against H7875 a bill that would require employers to give their employees at least two weeks notice of their work schedule, as well as other fair scheduling rights.

Speaking on behalf of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce ($100k annually), lobbyist Elizabeth Seuver said, “In light of our current situation – we have a virus that’s circulating around this state – we’re concerned about what this piece of legislation would do if an employer were in a situation where they needed to close operations.”

Suever compared the virus to a nor’easter or a hurricane. “This would significantly harm an employers ability to deal with those situations that were not foreseeable 14 days in advance. [Under this bill] any change in the schedule – that was published 14 days in advance – would require one hour of predictability pay.”

Elizabeth Suever

Under the bill, “predictability pay” is one hour of wages to the employee that agrees to cover the shift of an employee who calls out sick, in addition to the employee’s regular wages.

Lenette Forry-Menard, another highly paid lobbyists speaking on behalf of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce ($3k monthly), the Rhode Island Mortgage Banker’s Association ($25k annually), and the Associated Builders and Contractors ($24k monthly) echoed Suever’s point, but did not elaborate, perhaps because Liz Catucci, President and CEO of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, effectively weaponized the coronavirus against workers in her written testimony.

Lenette Forry-Menard

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Highly paid lobbyist Terrance Martesian, in his written testimony to the committee in opposition to the bill on behalf of the Independent Insurance Agents of Rhode Island ($16,875 annually), Rhode Island Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association ($17,500 annually) and Rhode Island Mortgage Bankers Association ($25k annually), name checked the coronavirus as well, saying the disease is “presently having a dramatic impact on retail, restaurants, public functions, education and other businesses.”

Fortunately, House Labor Chair Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence), who sponsored the bill, was having none of this argument.

“It is so coincidental,” said Williams with some sarcasm, “that the coronavirus is aiding the opposition to this bill. Everybody’s talking about it. They ain’t talking about the chicken pox or just the regular flu. But the coronavirus is the big, hot ticket. So they’re going to utilize it to say, ‘mm-mm.'”

Here’s the video. Apologies for the poor sound, but it was in a room with no microphones and fans running:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.