Providence hotel workers plan hunger strike over min wage

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A handful of Providence hotel workers said Monday they plan to starve themselves to protest a law that would block cities and towns from raising the minimum wage, the latest political stunt in their quest to earn $15 per hour.

The group announced its hunger strike Monday at the Rhode Island State House, shortly before the Senate Finance Committee approved an $8.7-billion budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year that includes a provision that prohibits municipalities from raising the minimum wage beyond state and federal requirements. The minimum wage is expected to grow to $9 statewide beginning Jan. 1.

A spokesperson for the group said about five hotel workers or union representatives from Unite Here Local 217 are expected to join the hunger strike. The group expects go at least seven days with only water while they camp out at the State House for their protest.

“There are certain rights being taken away,” Central Fall City Councilwoman Shelby Maldonado said during an afternoon press conference.

The Providence City Council was considering increasing the minimum wage for about 1,000 hotel workers to $15 per hour, but the 15-member all-Democrat panel instead chose to place the question on the November ballot, sparing themselves from having to take a difficult vote.

It is unclear whether the measure will still appear on the ballot for Providence voters if the approved state budget restricts municipalities from raising the minimum wage, but city officials say they believe state law would pre-empt city law.

The campaign to require city hotels with at least 25 rooms to pay employees at least $15 per hour started in April when union members submitted more than 1,000 signatures from Providence residents asking the City Council to take up the ordinance. The city law could be waived by collective bargaining agreements, but only two hotels – the Omni and the Biltmore – have unionized workers.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has been reluctant to support the legislation, arguing that the city needs to do an economic study before it moves forward. The City Council held a public hearing on the matter, but the Committee on Ordinances canceled a scheduled vote in May. At the time, a group of

The resolution to place it before the voters in November was sponsored by City Council President Michael Solomon, who is running for mayor in the September primary. All of the Democratic candidates for mayor have expressed support for raising the minimum wage statewide, but none have endorsed a $15 rate for hotel workers.

A union-commissioned poll showed 66% of likely Providence voters support raising the minimum wage for hotel workers, but the union declined to release the results of the poll in its entirety.

Dan McGowan ( ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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