The Uprising, October 5, 2018

Most of our students cannot stand up and speak for themselves so we are going to be their voice and fight for better schools for all educators and students.”
Samantha Lozeau, a Behavior Specialist at Groden South School in Coventry

Labor battles loomed big in Providence this week. Word is that hotel workers represented by Unite Here! Local 26 at the Omni Providence have reached a tentative agreement with management, but management at the Groden Center, that serves students with Autism from around the region have not had any sit-downs with educators who were on strike for three days. Instead, the Groden Center, located in Providence and Cumberland, shut down for three days.

And then there’s the First Student school bus strike, which seems to be at a permanent stalemate, the issue being pensions: Workers want them, management doesn’t want to give them.

1a. First Student

“All of us understand that the negotiations are between [First Student Inc and Teamsters Local 251] and while there may be legitimate issues on both sides, we speak on behalf of the children and the families here in the City of Providence,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, standing with City Council President David Salvatore and state and city-level elected officials. Elorza encouraged the two sides to reach a deal.

The Mayor has been hearing from the parents and guardians of the 9000 affected students who have been enduring the “extreme difficulty of getting their children to and from school.”

The City has come under fire from the ACLU of Rhode Island and the Center for Justice for not securing transportation for the just under 1000 special needs students who the City is required by Federal statute to get to provide transportation for.

The issue is that no other vendor, other than First Student, has the drivers and busses needed to transport the students in Providence to and from school. A similar First Student strike in Seattle lasted for 9 days before reaching an agreement.

1b. Groden Center

Educators marched and chanted for three days outside the Groden Center in Providence in protest of management’s unfair labor practices, to demand safer classrooms for their students, and living wages for staff. In response, the Groden Center shut down for the three days.

“We love our students and don’t want to be on strike again,” said Samantha Lozeau, a Behavior Specialist at Groden South School in Coventry. “But we have tried so hard to get management to take our concerns seriously, and they continue to spend money on temp agency staff so our students aren’t getting the education or services they deserve.”

2a. Robert Lancia

Representative Robert Lancia (Republican, District 16, Cranston) took on National Grid early in the week on the same day the company raised electrical rates 30 percent for Rhode Island consumers.

Lancia has proposed a bill that would give final approval for electrical rate increases to the General Assembly.

“If a rate [increase] goes above 15 percent it would have to go to the General Assembly for approval,” said Lancia. “Each and every Rep and Senator would have to vote on it. They would have to hold hearings. They would have to justify those increases.”

Though this bill did not pass in 2018, Lancia plans to re-introduce the bill in 2019.

“We’ve got three people sitting at the PUC (Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission), and unfortunately, I’m not happy with their performance. I really am not,” continued Lancia. “They always seem to side with the utilities, not the people… They say they are doing what they have to do but you know what? If they won’t do their job, maybe we don’t need the PUC. Maybe their time has come and gone.”

2b. Robert Lancia

Later in the week it was revealed by Katherine Gregg in the Providence Journal that Representative Lancia has been the subject of a “series of complaints” from State House staff who allege that the Representative “had on multiple occasions ‘verbally accosted’ employees, subjected them to ‘rants … [that] typically concern his campaign and his opinions of other representatives,’ and accused them of ‘doing campaign work for other representatives.’”

“It’s silly season. I’m not surprised it got out,” Lancia said to Tim White at Channel 12/WPRI. “My opponent is a State House lawyer working for the speaker and I’ve really taken on the Speaker on a lot of issues,” he said.

Lancia is being challenged for his House seat by Democrat Chris Millea, a lawyer who works at the Rhode Island State House. The documents were released to the media by former state Representative Frank Montanaro Jr, a close ally of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who heads up the Joint Committee of Legislative Services (JCLS), described as the administrative arm of the General Assembly.

3a. Toxic spill

“The tanker truck that rolled over and spilled thousands of gallons of gasoline onto Allens Avenue and into the Providence River further demonstrates the risk transporting fossil fuel places on the Port of Providence and adjacent neighborhoods,” said Monica Huertas, coordinator for NoLNGinPVD, a group fighting environmental racism in the Washington Park area of Providence. “This accident is the third in the area in the last 18 months, including a massive gas leak and an ethanol train derailment, both in March 2017.”

Huertas lead a group of about a dozen people in a protest at the corner of Allens Avenue and Ernest Street, which was as close as clean-up crews were allowing the public to be. Representatives from at least four environmental groups attended, including the Sierra Club, the Environmental Justice League, Climate Action Rhode Island and No LNG in PVD.

When the fuel truck overturned on the Route 95 Allens Avenue ramp in Providence Wednesday evening, it leaked as much as 11,000 thousand gallons of volatile fuel back down the ramp and into Providence River. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) elected to allow the fuel to flow with the outgoing tide.

At the protest, many people wondered when there would be an industrial accident big enough to make the state take action.

Here’s Huertas making her statement:

3b. Projo loves Invenergy

“If there is anybody in state government who possesses an ounce of pragmatism and an understanding of the value of economic development,” writes Providence Journal editor Ed Achorn (presumably), “they might want to look into ways to support big projects that would greatly help the residents of Rhode Island.”

The blustery editorial surprised no one familiar with the Providence Journal’s position on climate change and fossil fuel infrastructure. Check out this piece I wrote in 2016 after Achorn chose to print climate change denial garbage as an issue of “public importance.” Achorn accused me of having a “totalitarian mindset” when I pointed out that the Providence Journal reports lies on its editorial page.

Achorn’s recent piece was a full on attack on environmentalist and Burrillville residents in favor of Invenergy‘s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island. Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust, wrote an excellent rebuttal to Achorn’s most recent screed.

“It would be easy to dismiss the Providence Journal October 2nd editorial,” writes Roselli, “Easy to dismiss an editorial board that no longer exists. Easy to dismiss a newspaper that is running out of readers, can’t get out of its own way in failing to delve deep into facts about the economy, health and safety, environmental racism and instead writes an editorial that owns to a different time and place… What can’t be dismissed is a looming November election, where political alliances and fortunes may move the power plant process along. The misinformation and distortions have to be addressed.”

There are great reporters at the Providence Journal doing amazing work. They need an an equally amazing editor to lead them.

4a. Joe Biden

“Just last week we witnessed from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee a degree on invective, blind rage and brute partisanship that threatens not only the Senate and the Supreme Court it threatens the basic faith the people have in our institutions,” said former Vice President Joe Biden, who came to Rhode Island to stump for Governor Gina Raimondo and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “Dr Blasey Ford gave courageous, credible testimony, and yet she was denied an FBI investigation which was automatic when I was chairman. Automatically, immediately and FBI investigation would be in order… Dr Blasey Ford deserves a full, robust investigation.”

Biden was talking, of course, about the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, an issue Biden should be sensitive to considering the way the issue is mirrored in his conduct as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Biden has been criticized for his treatment of Anita Hill (and his treatment of three other women who were not allowed to testify, Sukari Hardnett, Rose Jourdain and Angela Wright) who accused Thomas of sexual harassment.

Of course, the Senate ultimately approved a new and extremely limited FBI investigation which did little to satisfy Democrats.

“If I had received a report like this when I was serving as a United States Attorney, I would have sent it back for more work,” said Whitehouse in a statement. “Clearly there were considerable constraints on the FBI, and those constraints have hampered the sincere and thorough investigation we need. This incomplete investigation does a tremendous disservice to survivors, who are bravely seizing this moment to tell their stories in an effort to effect much-needed and long-overdue change.”

Speaking ahead of Biden, Whitehouse received voluminous thank yous and applause for his questioning of Kavanaugh during the hearings.

“Set all the rest of it aside,” said Whitehouse. “Set aside that the guy is essentially bought and paid for by big special interests. Set aside that he has been groomed for this by the Federalist Society and the big money behind it: Chosen by them, supported by this special interest funded Judicial Crisis Network – Set aside all of those disabilities – Set aside Dr Christine Blasey Ford‘s incredible testimony… Just focus on the way the man behaved…

“Conspiracy theories, the Clintons are doing this to me, yelling back at Senators… the fact that we’re in this position now, with [Kavanaugh] going so partisan, him losing complete control over his temperament (and you know they talk about judicial temperament? Didn’t see much of that.)

“The fact that that didn’t disqualify him. The fact that doubling down on that actually helped pull the Republican Party around him, that tells you all you need to know about today’s Republican Party.”

4b. Brett Kavanaugh

By the time you read this, Brett Kavanaugh may well be a Supreme Court Justice.

I wrote this poem:

“Brett”

Through days of Hell, I feel swell. I’ve endured my suffering like a boss

It’s existential, but I’m special, like Jesus dying on his cross.

Hand on my heart, I never lied

(Hand on her mouth, she may have died.)

The past is nothing but a dream…

And you will know me as Supreme.

5. Camille Vella-Wilkinson

Warwick Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson (Democrat, District 21, Warwick) may be cheering for a Blue Wave this November, but in a race in nearby East Greenwich, she is rooting for Republican incumbent Antonio Giarrusso (Republican, District 30, East Greenwich) over his Democratic woman challenger, Justine Caldwell. Vella-Wilkinson has even written a letter of support for Giarrusso, claiming that Caldwell engaged in “character [assassination]” in a recent campaign press release.

The problem is, Vella-Wilkinson mischaracterizes Caldwell’s press release, and defends Giarrusso against charges Caldwell never made. Giarrusso used Vella-Wilkinson’s letter in a campaign mailer.

6a. An $18 million, 20-year tax break for luxury apartments in Providence

The Providence City Council passed a tax stabilization agreement (TSA) for Steeple Street RI LLC, a luxury housing developer on Thursday night. The tax break is worth $18 million over 20 years.

“Why would this much time be necessary for the developers to realize sufficient profit to pay their fair share of taxes?” asks Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) in a letter to the City Council. “If the development isn’t presumed to be profitable enough to cover property taxes for 20 years, perhaps it isn’t a wise investment for the residents of Providence.”

DARE suggested a series of amendments that might have made this TSA more amenable. The Providence City Council ignored DARE’s letter in their race to please a wealthy and connected developer.

“TSAs for luxury housing are just not a good idea,” writes newly elected State Senator Sam Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence). “This is why I will be introducing legislation to ban all TSAs from our state.”

“When the taxpayers of Providence subsidize a construction project, it should benefit the Providence workforce, which must include women, people of color and veterans,” said Benjamin Branchaud of Carpenters Local 330. “Tax credits should also never finance construction companies that do not pay their workers or surprise them with a 1099 form at the end of the year. The amendments to this TSA and future TSAs that DARE has submitted address both of these issues and more. We are in full support.”

“The Steeple Street property would impact my community in a real way as it sits in Ward 12. I am concerned that if we continue to allow developments like this one to evade the taxes our city needs to deliver fundamental services we are doing our communities a huge disservice,” said Kat Kerwin, City Councilor-Elect Ward 12.

“Also, and I think this does matter, the design is really awful,” adds Sam Bell. “Schlock development does undermine our city.”

6b. I-195 Land

“The Fane Tower proposal in Providence is another proposal that should warrant our enthusiastic support. You might think that we would welcome a developer wanting to invest a quarter billion dollars in our capital city … but we have done all we can to chase him away,” said Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. “We need to move past nimbyism if we are going to grow and thrive as a state.”

Ruggerio plans to draft legislation that would remove “some of the impediments to redeveloping the rest of our former highway land by granting more authority to the I-195 Commission, so the city doesn’t stand in the way of progress.” That is, remove the City of Providence from the equation entirely.

“My initial response is it is concerning and I want to get down to the details of it,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, who noted that the city has over 60 building projects in the works as evidence that the City is not opposed to development. The Senate President’s plan, said Elorza, “would be unprecedented, especially if it is done for one particular project.”

City Council President David Salvatore agrees with Elorza. “The City Council is pro-economic development and pro-growth, and I think the development happening downtown speaks to that very notion. It’s important to grow our local tax base without having to raise taxes, and that’s what we are doing here in Providence.”

6c. Some perspective on luxury housing development:

Boston Becomes Another Haven for Unoccupied Luxury Condominiums

7a. One working group ends…

Governor Gina Raimondo‘s Gun Safety Working Group made the following recommendations as it concluded it’s work on Thursday:

  • Improve statewide data collection, data integration and analysis to support reduction in gun crimes, deaths and injuries
  • Ban all magazines capable of accepting, or that can be readily converted to accept, more than ten rounds of ammunition
  • Ban the production, possession, purchase or sale of 3-D printed firearms, which, in addition to being untraceable, may also be undetectable firearms
  • Prohibit the concealed carry of firearms on school grounds and within 1,000 feet of elementary or secondary schools, consistent with federal law, and in government buildings
  • Ensure access to licensed mental health professionals for all elementary and secondary public school students
  • Raise the age to purchase/possess long guns to 21 subject to certain exceptions
  • Increase public awareness of suicide prevention resources with key audiences: firearm dealers, educators, and healthcare providers
  • Require regular training of law enforcement and the judiciary on use of the “Red Flag” law and NICS reporting of individuals who should not have access to firearms based on a significant danger of causing harm to themselves or to others.

“Since I’ve been governor I have had to lower the flags to half staff because of gun violence 11 times. Enough is enough. While Washington continues to drag its feet, Rhode Island is taking action and working on a plan to keep our schools, our families and our communities safe,” said Governor Raimondo. “I’m grateful to the members of the Gun Safety Working Group for dedicating their time and lending their thoughtful perspectives to this important work.”

The Gun Safety Working Group held it’s first meeting back in April.

7b. …another working group begins

The Governor’s Task Force to Tackle Plastics will develop a host of options to reduce plastic pollution in Rhode Island’s waters and reliance on single-use plastics. The Task Force will target single-use disposables such as shopping bags, bottles, cups and straws – along with items like six-pack rings and balloons – that become unsightly, dangerous, and all-too-familiar litter on land and in coastal waters.

“This advisory board will help Rhode Island develop practical solutions to protect our waters from plastics pollution and ensure a greener future for our state,” said Governor Raimondo. “I want to thank these new members for dedicating their time and knowledge to keeping plastics out of Narragansett Bay and off our coastlines. Working together with environmental advocates, industry, large retailers and small businesses, communities, and other partners, the Task Force to Tackle Plastics will seek sustainable alternatives to enable consumers and businesses to end our reliance on single-use plastics.”

The Task Force to Tackle Plastics met at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management offices in providence on Friday.

9. New Bridges for Haitian Success

Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee, Lincoln Town Administrator Joseph Almond and Bernard Georges, founder of New Bridges for Haitian Success announced the donation of an ambulance and 10 sets of rescue gear to Belle-Anse, a Haitian community without a hospital or emergency transportation.

It is also my distinct honor to be receiving an award from New Bridges for Haitian Success at their 2nd Annual Fundraising Dinner.

10. Andy Boardman at the Good Five Cent Cigar:

To fix parking woes, change pricing and build more housing

11. ACLU

The ACLU of Rhode Island issued a critical analysis of the Attorney General’s (AG) response to State Representative Patricia Morgan’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request for documents pertaining to the AG’s expenditure of more than $50M in funds from the settlement of a recent Google lawsuit with the State. Representative Morgan has thus far been charged more than $3,700 for partial release of the records, some of which are heavily redacted. The ACLU’s analysis highlights “the clear need for legislation to strengthen the law.”

The ACLU’s report claims that no public body has every interpreted the cited exemption “in this extraordinary manner.”

12a. PRONK!

Beth Comery at the Providence Daily Dose talks about Sunday’s PRONK! Music Festival, which is a blast.

12b. Columbus

Some thoughts I had while reading Friday’s Rhode Island Catholic editorial, which said, in part, “There are many who criticize Columbus for interfering with the indigenous cultures and forcing them to acquiesce to a more European culture and religion. Yet, with the introduction of Catholicism, many of the indigenous peoples of Central and South America had their pagan practices abolished and the Gospel was spread through their countries.”

How easily the author of the Rhode Island Catholic editorial ignores the fact that Columbus brought murder, rape, torture and genocide to the so-called “New” World.

13. Ocean State Against Hate

“Despite being roundly and unambiguously rejected by the people of Providence at their last attempted event, fascist front group ‘Resist Marxism‘ has planned another rally in Providence, on Saturday, October 6th,” says Ocean State Against Hate on their Facebook event. “In a deliberate escalation, they have invited violent fascists from across the country to come to our city, including Proud Boy TusitalaTinyToese, who has been videotaped attacking protesters. This is a clear and present threat to our communities, especially people of color, immigrants, women, LGBT people, and poor and working class people.”

The last time Resist Marxism came to town it rained, and their equipment was ruined.

To get a feel for who Resist Marxism is, read this Twitter thread:

14. Picture of the Week:


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About Steve Ahlquist 597 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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