Union drops Collette Vacations deal over backing for EngageRI

There’s a reason many companies avoid getting involved in politics – they don’t want to alienate potential customers on any side of an issue. Pawtucket-based travel agency Collette Vacations is the latest to learn that lesson.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, ended its relationship with Collette over the weekend thanks to the company’s support for Engage Rhode Island, the deep-pocketed new advocacy group pushing the General Assembly to enact the Raimondo-Chafee pension bill.

NEA’s Member Benefits Corp. subsidiary had a deal with Collette that provided 5% travel discounts and other perks to NEA’s 3.2 million members when they booked their trips through the Pawtucket agency.

The NEA “has severed the relationship it had with Collette,” and “Collette’s involvement with EngageRI factored into the decision-making process,” Robert Walsh, executive director of the NEA’s Rhode Island chapter, told WPRI.com in an email. A spokeswoman for Collette did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

John Galvin, Collette Vacation’s longtime chief financial officer, testified in support of the pension overhaul before the joint finance committee last week, along with other local business leaders including Paul Choquette, former chairman of developer and builder Gilbane, and Merrill Sherman, CEO of Bank Rhode Island.

Collette and Gilbane are among the dozens of organizations listed as “Coalition Members” on EngageRI’s website. Walsh expressed NEARI’s strong opposition to the pension bill in testimony to lawmakers last week.

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