NEARI Report: the Supplemental Budget Process (and Much More)
The following was sent this afternoon to members of the National Education Association of Rhode Island.
I am not sure what was reported in the paper this morning since reporters were posting stories as they were briefed, but some of those turned out to be premature. The House Finance Committee did vote out the supplemental budget in an extraordinarily short time once it began. We arrived at the State House around one and they did not start their scheduled 11 am meeting until after 8 pm. For all those not yet eligible to retire, the COLA was changed to apply only to the first $35,000 of retirement income. This number would be indexed, which means it goes up each year. The eligibility age to receive the COLA was raised to 65. (Reps Fierro, San Bento and Savage voted against the changes.)
Reps received more phone calls and emails than ever before in such a short time, but we cannot stop now. We all need to remember that when this first leaked out on Monday the COLA cap was at $12,000 with no indexing. I truly believe your efforts had an impact – now we need to push them to vote “no” for any changes at all. Enough is enough and it stops now. Keep calling and emailing. It will be critical over the weekend as those reps leaning our way need our support and we need to turn the others around. We do have support in the House, and the Senate has been fighting this all along.
All the unions impacted are asking their members to come to the State House this Monday after work to lobby and show opposition to these changes. They are caucusing at 3 pm and meeting at 4 pm. Since the House vote will be Tuesday, this will be our opportunity to raise our collective voices. You and your members need to be there. We have been sending a very strong political message that a vote for this is a vote against public employees, teachers, and working women and if you do so, do not expect our help in November. We need your help on Monday delivering that message!
To show how unions working together can have an impact: at 4 pm a new budget item appeared out of nowhere that called for all municipal employees to contribute a minimum of 15% toward health care despite any collective bargaining agreements. At 7 pm, George Nee, president of the AFL-CIO, was called to the speaker’s office and was told to tell the other union leaders that that item was off the table. (The only mildly pleasant moment of the evening came around 9 pm when a reporter for the Journal was running around the hearing room looking for that article since they has already posted it as a major headline a few hours previously.)
There was one other surprise that the reps on the Finance Committee did not know about, and I think they were not even sure about it when they voted. All teacher and school employee contracts must now be approved by both the local school committee and town council/city council with at least one public hearing held prior to the vote. If that ends up being the case, I believe we move to do away with school committees because they will have become useless in the process. (I know what you are thinking.) In addition to opposing the COLA changes, ask your reps to oppose Article 9 as well.
I mentioned this past Monday earlier and now it seems like such a long time ago. In three days time, though, we held two conference calls, send an all member email, blogged, tweeted and everything else in between. It all led to a member response level never seen before. I want to thank you and ask you not to stop. Remind your colleagues to do the same. To do nothing means we agree with what is happening and I know you don’t.
A special thanks to local presidents, officers and staff who have been working to put an end to this. We need to be as energized as ever. I am certainly ready to take our opposition to the next step and beyond when you are, but right now it starts with more phone calls and a huge turnout on Monday.